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‘They have been ignored’: Calls to allow food delivery drivers access to COVID-19 vaccines

Unions are calling for food delivery drivers to join frontline workers in being prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination due to the increased risk posed by the Delta variant that has locked down over five million residents in New South Wales. With restaurants across Greater Sydney, Wollongong, Shellharbour, the Blue Mountains, and the Central Coast restricted to takeaway only, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian urging people to reduce their mobility and demand food deliveries homes is on the rise.

Each night, scores of delivery drivers – most of whom are not currently eligible for the vaccine – are working during stay-at-home orders. Nick McIntosh, Assistant National Secretary for the Transport Workers Union, told SBS News members had expressed “great concern” for their health working during a lockdown. “We’re in the situation where they are essential workers that have just been totally ignored and are right on the frontline as this pandemic spreads,” he said. “[They’re concerned about] not being a priority in the vaccination queue, not being provided in many cases adequately with personal protective equipment by the companies [and] not having any sick leave or anything to fall back on.”

Mr. McIntosh said drivers are apprehensive about losing work if they develop symptoms or are deemed close contact. He noted that many of them are migrants or do not speak English as their first language, which adds challenges in communicating vital health messaging.

Anyone in Australia directed to isolate for 14 days by health authorities can access the pandemic leave disaster payment of $1,500. That includes residents on temporary visas who have the right to work.

The driver’s risk has been exacerbated by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, which some health authorities have warned can spread through “fleeting contact”. Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist with the University of South Australia, said delivery workers had an increased risk of infection and of accidentally spreading the virus, “especially with this new variant, which is far more transmissible”.  Clearly, if someone is moving around and using the general public, then that they are at risk,” he said.

One would hope that they’re wearing masks, gloves and taking precautions.

Professor Esterman told SBS News he would like to see delivery drivers included under the definition of ‘critical and high risk’ workers, which has allowed defense, police, emergency services, and meat processing workers access to the vaccine, alongside health workers.

Unions also want to see the group broadened, citing the vital role delivery drivers play in keeping the hospitality sector open under lockdown. “The problem we have when we’ve got a limited vaccination supply is that all of these essential workers, including gig workers, are not getting vaccinated, and they’re the ones that most desperately need to. It’s just an absolute debacle,” Mr. McIntosh said.

Molly Aronson

Molly Aronson is a 26-year-old government politician who enjoys bowling, running and jigsaw puzzles. She is creative and exciting, but can also be very greedy and a bit greedy.She is an australian Christian who defines herself as straight. She has a post-graduate degree in philosophy, politics and economics. She is allergic to grasshoppers.

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