The New South Wales government has decided to scrap most vaccination mandates for healthcare, aviation and education sectors over the coming weeks, in a sudden decision that has left unions puzzled.
When the mandates were introduced in NSW last year, hundreds of public school employees along with almost 1000 healthcare workers were forced out of their jobs.
Good News for Teachers, Healthcare Workers: Mandates Lifting
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that Dominic Perrottet’s government will be lifting a huge raft of remaining restrictions, including mask mandates and capacity limits for public transport, forced hotel quarantine for unvaccinated international arrivals and vaccination mandates for a number of industries.
Christian Marchegiani was a high school science teacher before the mandates and became an advocate for teachers like himself who had lost their jobs. Now that the mandates are finally lifting he says he has been ‘inundated’ with messages from people celebrating the changes.
Perrottet’s new restrictions aim to ‘simplify’ the approach to the virus and will permit most teachers and healthcare workers to return to work.
“It was a victory, but there was a lot of suffering and heartache along the way. A lot of struggles. A lot of teachers lost their homes, they couldn’t pay their rent anymore. A lot of them will reapply for their jobs, although there’s a bitter taste in their mouths.”
Decreasing Effectiveness of Jab Against Omicron Transmission
Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious disease expert at the Australian National University, said that, due to the significant natural immunity built up by Omicron infections, now was ‘the right time’ to ease restrictions relating to close contact isolation.
Professor Julie Leask, a public health expert from the University of Sydney, pointed out that mandates are now harder to justify because of decreasing vaccine effectiveness in preventing Omicron transmission.
This means that vaccination against COVID-19 is now ‘more about protecting ourselves as individuals than protecting each other.’
Healthcare Unions React to the Sudden Changes
While the easing of mandates has been celebrated by those who were forced from their jobs, the response from the unions has been varied.
Brett Holmes, from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, seemed puzzled by the sudden change, having assumed that forced vaccinations were permanent measures.
‘It does not make sense to lift vaccination requirements on a workforce that’s been so recently forced to undertake them,’ he said.
Gerard Hayes, from the Health Services Union, stated, along with Holmes, that he preferred voluntary vaccination to mandates: ‘Mandates really should be a last resort.’
As The Sydney Morning Herald reports, the relevant industries have experienced ‘serious shortages’ due to the pandemic.
Despite Professor Leask’s recognition that vaccinations are now more about ‘protecting ourselves’ against severe disease, and that they are increasingly ineffective in preventing transmission, many vaccinated people still seem paranoid about unvaccinated individuals transmitting the disease to them. Consequently, Perrottet’s new rules have experienced predictable backlash, especially from some of the vaccinated colleagues of those who can soon return to work.
Nonetheless, the new rules constitute a welcome change for many who have experienced untold hardship and discrimination over the past months.
Photo by RODNAE Productions.