Australia’s most senior health official insists the country did have a plan for coronavirus outbreaks in aged care.
The minister responsible for privately-run nursing homes has also disputed claims the sector was not given enough advice to handle the pandemic.
The aged care royal commission has been told neither the federal health department nor the regulator had developed a coronavirus plan.
The commission heard aged care operators were not offered advice from either body between June 19 and August 3, when the virus tore through Melbourne nursing homes.
But Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck insists the sector received advice much earlier.
“We have had a plan to deal with COVID-19 in residential aged care going right back to the beginnings of our preparations,” Senator Colbeck told reporters on Tuesday.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly also rejected suggestions Australia did not have a plan for aged care outbreaks, reeling off various reports and guidelines created since March.
Australia’s virus aged care death rate is among the highest in the world at 68 per cent of the country’s virus toll.
The majority of the more than 200 deaths in aged care have been in Victoria.
Professor Kelly acknowledged each death was a terrible tragedy, but attempted to put the numbers in context.
The United States has recorded more than five million cases and 50,000 deaths in aged care.
The United Kingdom has recorded more than 16,000 deaths in nursing homes.
“In Australia there are 220,” Prof Kelly told reporters.
“People can make their own comparison and their own decisions there about whether we are the worst in the world when you see those sorts of figures.”
Prof Kelly said Australia’s coronavirus death rate was extremely low.
“It’s a tragedy to lose a loved one, but really, there have been very few deaths in comparison to other countries,” he said.
The aged care regulator failed to tell federal agencies a staff member at one of the infected nursing homes, St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner, had tested positive to the virus until four days later.
“I’m not happy that there was a gap in the systems,” Senator Colbeck said.
“They should have told us immediately.”
Senator Colbeck only found out about the communications blunder on Friday, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison was made aware on Sunday.
Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens became aware of the issue through the media on Tuesday morning.
Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen isn’t convinced the government had a plan for the sector since January.
“The minister’s just slip-sliding away saying: We had a plan,” he told Sky News.
He wants Senator Colbeck to front the royal commission and explain his plan.