There’s no shortage of flaws in the way our government has executed its pathetic excuse of a COVID response.

Here in NSW, newly appointed Premier Dominic Perrottet removed mask mandates and other COVID safety measures at the same time as a new, highly transmissible COVID variant appeared. Just weeks later, the state is now consistently hitting 20,000 new COVID cases a day.

Already, this is a shit show. Cases are soaring, most people I know have either already been infected by COVID or have a close friend or family member that has, and despite lockdown ending months ago, I still feel trapped. Not everyone can afford to just ‘live with the virus’.

Full disclosure: I am not a member of the disabled community, and I am not immunocompromised. I am a fully vaccinated young person with no other health conditions. But that doesn’t make me relaxed and complacent, and that certainly doesn’t make me less anxious about catching the virus.

Why? Because I have immunocompromised friends who I love and care about, and I can’t risk giving them COVID. Shocking news: I care about other people. And unfortunately, that’s not a mindset I’m seeing accounted for in the current COVID rules, or many people’s attitudes towards the virus.

The last two weeks have been incredibly distressing for anyone that can’t risk catching COVID. Previously, anyone could get a free PCR test at pretty much any time, with no referral or proof of need necessary. Obviously this makes sense, since the best way to detect COVID is to detect it early through regular testing, so people can isolate before they become infectious and limit the spread of the virus.

Except, this isn’t the case anymore.

According to new rules, people are only eligible for a free PCR test if they are a) a close contact to someone who has COVID (of which the definition has recently narrowed) or b) suffering COVID symptoms.

It’s ableist to limit free PCR testing to only these people because it ignores the fact that some of us need to get tested when there’s even a remote chance that we may have COVID, to avoid spreading it to friends and family that may not survive it.

By refusing peace of mind tests to people like me, who want to get one out of courtesy for the safety of our loved ones, the government effectively isolates immunocompromised people that can’t afford to see people unless they are confirmed COVID negative.

For now, I’ve had to make do with just doing a rapid antigen test every time I see my immunocompromised friends. But this is less than ideal — for one, the tests aren’t as accurate as PCR tests, and don’t pick up the virus until around seven days after infection. So, there’s a chance I’m getting false negatives.

Then there’s the more obvious issues: tests are consistently sold out, and when you can find them they are fucking expensive. The original retail price for a five pack of rapid antigen tests was $50, but many chemists are removing individual tests from their packaging and selling them for as much as $25 each. And they’re not going to be government subsidised.

I am lucky enough to be able to afford $50 every week or fortnight for rapid tests so that I can see my immunocompromised friends and family. Not everyone can. So where does that leave us?

The government has changed accessibility requirements for PCR tests, is refusing to make rapid antigen tests free, and is telling us we’ve got to ‘learn to live with’ the virus. Despite the fact that we were living with the virus, when masks were commonplace, social distancing was the norm, and case numbers were in the early 100-200 rather than 20,000. That’s what living with COVID looks like.

Now, what we are doing is not ‘living with COVID’.

It’s abled, privileged people being able to take risks and do what they want, and deal with the effects fo COVID later — while immunocompromised people must isolate from the rest of society or risk debilitating infection. If our government’s idea of returning to ‘normal’ excludes certain groups, then it’s not returning to normal, it’s sacrificing vulnerable people for the sake of its own interests.

Immunocompromised people deserve to enjoy society just as much as everyone else, and refusing them that option by creating a situation where COVID tests are inaccessible and virus spread is considered an inevitability is fucking ableist.

As Anthea Williams, a theatre and film director who wrote for The Guardian about living with disabilities during COVID, put it: “my lockdown has not ended; it will continue until there is a coherent plan from our leaders that doesn’t leave people with disability behind.”

Until the disabled community is free to interact with society safely, we are not ‘back to normal’. And honestly? ‘Normal’ was never accessible anyway.