COVID curtailing Vic human rights: report

A wheelchair-bound woman at a drive-through COVID test site was told she could not go to the toilet.
A wheelchair-bound woman at a drive-through COVID test site was told she could not go to the toilet.

Two women were humiliated and discriminated against for needing the toilet, according to a new Victorian report highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic's impacts on human rights.

In the report tabled in state parliament on Wednesday, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass detailed dozens of case studies of recent human rights breaches.

She revealed a wheelchair-bound woman at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site was told she could not go to the toilet and keep her spot in the queue.

After waiting four hours in line on a hot day in January, Tereza asked if she could leave and later re-join as there were no wheelchair-accessible toilets on site.

But staff said she would have to go to the back of the line if she left.

Tereza left and did not return for her coronavirus test, with a bystander contacting the ombudsman's office to complain.

"It was blatant discrimination ... they made no consideration of her needs," they said.

In response to her case, the report said all testing sites were reminded of their obligations to make "reasonable adjustments" for people with disabilities.

"The department said staff at the site should either have hired a disability accessible toilet, offered to test Tereza ahead of others or helped her get to an accessible toilet without losing her spot in the queue," it said.

In early 2021, a NSW resident was also forced to relieve herself on a moving bus en route to hotel quarantine in Melbourne.

Tamika and her child were detained for five hours at Melbourne airport as they waited to be assigned a quarantine hotel.

When she needed to use the toilet on the way to the bus, Tamika was told to wait until she arrived at the hotel but could not hold on.

"She found an empty water bottle and had to relieve herself in it while the bus was moving," the report said.

Complaining to the ombudsman after leaving hotel quarantine, she said: "I have never been so humiliated."

The then-Department of Health and Human Services and COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria both contacted Tamika about the treatment, and the ombudsman recommended travellers be able to use an airport bathroom before being transported.

Ms Glass said the cases illustrated the pandemic had limited freedoms in a way that would have been "unimaginable" not long ago.

"Human rights are not absolute. This has been starkly borne out by the COVID-19 pandemic," she wrote.

"But even during a global pandemic, human rights cannot be ignored.

"Had dignity been considered when a woman needed the toilet while awaiting transit to hotel quarantine, she would not have had to urinate in a plastic water bottle on a moving bus."

Australian Associated Press