Australia entered April 2020 with a sense of fear and uncertainty around COVID-19.
The Australian Government graph below shows COVID-19 infections soared during March 2020. For most of March, Australia’s count of confirmed cases doubled every 3-4 days. At the conclusion of March 2020, there was no way of knowing whether infection rates would continue rising, would fluctuate or would fall.
At the end of April 2020, the rate of new COVID-19 infections rate seems to have stablised at a low number with some States/Teritories not having had a new infection for about a week. Australian Government figures as at 3:00pm on 30 April 2020, a total of 6,753 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Australia, including 91 deaths and 5,714 have been reported as recovered from COVID-19.
The impact of COVID-19 has been different but equally onerous across Ministerial PJPs:
The structure of, and roles within, Ministerial PJPs differs considerably. In some Ministerial PJPs, the Canonical Stewards have significant roles in the governance of ministries. In others, the Canonical Stewards role is confined to identity/mission with the governance of ministries being the role of an appointed board(s).
All Canonical Stewards have in common that they are responsible to, and on behalf of, the Church for the mission of the ministries that their Ministerial PJP sponsor. Flowing from this responsibility, the Canonical Stewards pray for their ministries. They also offer an overall pastoral stewardship for the ministry – especially to the board(s) that partner with them in fostering the ministries.
Canonical Stewards have reported that during the COVID-19 period they have had additional meetings and communication to be informed about the situation in their ministries. At times, Canonical Stewards have initiated contact with their board(s) and ministries to express their concern and solidarity.
Across Ministerial PJP ministries, COVID-19 has increased the amount of work and also the creativity in responding to this new work. regardless of the sector corporate and support staff have had the disruption of reorganising workplaces and processes so that they can operate from home and remotely.
Ministerial PJPs sponsor about 87 aged care facilities with approximately 11,425 clients.
Aged care is one of the most vulnerable sectors to COVID-19. This was clearly evident in the non-MPJP aged care facility in Sydney, where a total of 66 people were infected with 16 residents having died, since an employee worked six shifts despite displaying mild coronavirus symptoms. The vulnerability of aged care clients places enormous anxiety and stress both on them and on the staff who care for them.
Aged care facilities were already under financial stress with 56% reporting a loss in the Oct-Dec 2019 period. In response to COVID-19 they have seen their revenue decrease as occupancy rates fall. Their expenses have increased with more cleaning staff and more social activities within the facility and more staff time to help residents connect with family online, phone and via other means.
The Australian Government graph below shows that older Australians are much more likely to die from COVID-19:
Ministerial PJPs sponsor about 73 hospitals with approximately 867,995 patients.
Hospitals were under tremendous pressure to rapidly increase their ability to provide care and intensive care to people with COVID-19. Fortunately, Australia has not experienced overwhelming hospital admissions.
The Australian Government ban on elective surgery from 31 March 2020 had a huge impact on the work and finances of hospitals. The government recently announced that it will gradually ease restrictions on elective surgery from Tuesday 28 April 2020.
All health care workers live with the stress and anxiety of being at the front-line of care for those with COVID-19. One creative response to this situation is a series of podcasts produced by St Vincent’s health and aged care ministries. The podcasts aim to console staff through taking some time to pause and reflect, to bolster their courage, and together to cultivate the compassion needed by them and those they serve at this time.
Ministerial PJPs sponsor about 91 schools with approximately 69,686 students.
Most families are keeping their children away from school. Teachers are developing online learning with very little preparation time. Most of these teachers have never developed or delivered online learning so they are on a steep and stressful learning curve. Boarding schools had most students return home and those that were not able to so are being supported. Many families are applying for financial assistance and fee remission.
As April closes, term two of school is taking shape. The direction regarding when schools are to return to face-to-face learning is coming from the state leaders. Within the Catholic and Religious Institute/Ministerial PJP school systems the Principals are largely making local decisions. Where the Ministerial PJP works across more than one state there is a fair degree of differentiation for the governing body to be across.
Ministerial PJPs sponsor about 29 social services with approximately 33,730 clients.
Many Ministerial PJP social services are with people with disabilities, families, child care, others are with asylum seekers and Aboriginal communities. Almost all of these services have closed their facilities and are finding other ways to support their clients. This is an incredibly difficult period as the needs of many of these people have actually increased due to stress within the family environment and the financial pressures as some are ineligible for the government’s COVID-19 supports.
In some ways, we are defined not just by our usual activities but also how we respond in periods of crisis. Already we are seeing Ministerial PJPs demonstrating their values and heritage in new, courageous and exemplary ways. The COVID-19 period will only truly be over when a safe vaccine and effective treatments are widely available. Medical authorities say that this will take at least 18 months. While we wait for this we are likely to have changes in social distancing requirements in response to occasional outbreaks of infections. In summary, the COVID-19 crisis period will be our reality for the foreseeable future.
The AMPJP congratulates its members on their response thus far. Individually and together they have responded to this crisis during this initial period. Collaboration and cooperation will be needed in greater quantities and in new ways as the crisis continues. As an Association and as individual Ministerial PJPs we will continue to support and encourage all who are impacted and in particular those who have responsibility to manage the evolving situation in each of our ministries.
Featured image: Illustration of the ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virus courtesy of CDC/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY