A Canberra photographer has hit out at the NSW health system for failing to keep his ailing father safe after the 80-year-old contracted COVID-19 in a Sydney hospital and died over the weekend.
Kat Ditthavong died in Liverpool Hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning, the fifth person to die in an outbreak there, after contracting the virus while in hospital.
His son, Canberra Times photographer Sitthixay Ditthavong, said his family had tried everything to keep his father safe but felt let down by the system that was supposed to care for him and regret admitting him to hospital.
"Before he caught Covid, they told us he was going to be discharged on the 8th [of August], that he was doing fine," Sitthixay said.
"It makes you feel helpless. Since the start of last year, we'd done everything we can to have kept him safe. We took him to hospital with the best of intentions, to look after him, and instead we ended up never being able to see our father ever again."
Kat Ditthavong was admitted to hospital after his GP recommended he be placed on a drip, with concerns a reaction to medication was making him dehydrated. He had been advised by his GP not to receive a COVID vaccination due to health concerns.
Canberra-based Sitthixay has spent the past 18 months driving to Sydney on his days off, running errands for his parents so they did not have to be out in the community. He said he was struggling to hold back his anger at how his father and other families had been treated.
"I feel the pain of other families who don't know their lives are about to be turned upside down, because of the current outbreak that's happening. The sooner we arrest this outbreak, the better," he said.
"There are many reasons why people can't be vaccinated, not the least of which is that many people over the past few months literally haven't been able to access those vaccines, as everybody knows. And there are other ones with health concerns, as well, such as my father."
I want people to recognise that these are all real people ... no one deserves to die alone in a small room by themselves, in this incredibly small, diminished way.Sitthixay Ditthavong
Mr Ditthavong, a former Laos diplomat who spoke six languages, was admitted to hospital on July 22, and tested positive to COVID-19 on July 29. He came to Australia with his wife and six children, settling in south-west Sydney. He would become a grandfather to eight.
Sitthixay said his father was an intensely curious, warm and generous man who was deeply invested in his community.
"There wasn't anything he wasn't interested in. When I played rugby, he took up following rugby. He liked boxing. He had an insatiable appetite for politics and foreign affairs," Sitthixay said.
"He approached everything with a certain lightness, a certain carefree-ness. ... He spent money on toys when he shouldn't have. He was all about giving us experiences."
"He gave himself selflessly to advocate for the Laos community in Australia. He was responsible for getting funding for the Laos temple here, even though he was not a Buddhist. He has helped many migrants settle into Australia," Sitthixay said.
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Sitthixay said he found it difficult to contain his anger at the way deaths connected to the Greater Sydney COVID-19 outbreak had been talked about.
"I find it hard to hold back my anger that the deaths have been spoken about in the most fleeting of ways, as mere data points on a timeline. And I want people to recognise that these are all real people, with real hopes and dreams. We all want the best for ourselves and no one deserves to die alone in a small room by themselves, in this incredibly small, diminished way," he said.
Sitthixay said if health authorities and political leaders wanted the public to trust their decision-making, they needed to be upfront with the data and information they were relying on.
"Even before this affected me personally, I was very frustrated and vocal about the measures that the NSW government were taking. I think they ignored plenty of evidence that the Delta strain had the capacity to inflict serious harm to communities, and tried to manage it with a light touch. I think they've now lost control," he said.
"They're asking us to blindly have faith in them and we really need to know what information they're basing their decisions on."
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