COVID-19: Aged care visits will be restricted to protect those most vulnerable

Australians visiting elderly relatives in aged care homes will be limited to short, two-person visits - once a day - under new federal government measures.

Aged care visits are being limited to contain COVID-19's spread.

Aged care visits are being limited to contain COVID-19's spread. Source: AAP

The Federal Government is limiting visits to aged care facilities to short, two-person visits once a day, per resident, to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

New restrictions will also mean anyone who has been overseas in the past two weeks, been in contact with someone who has coronavirus or has respiratory infection symptoms will be barred completely.

The changes are part of a range of measures announced by Prime minister Scott Morrison and Australia's chief health officer on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House.
Source: AAP

These include warning Australians against all overseas travel and banning all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Prime Minister Morrison said visits to dying relatives would have to be arranged with individual aged care facilities.

"We all know how distressing that can be and so the aged care facilities will be asked to put in place sensible arrangements," he said.

Mr Morrison said aged care facilities would have the discretion to put in strict arrangements over the visits.

“I know that people will want to see their elderly parents or relatives or others. I totally understand that,” he said. 

He stressed visitors should practice good hygiene and social distancing measures.

"Aged care facilities will be asked to put in place sensible arrangements to facilitate those types of visits on a compassionate basis," he said. 

Large groups, including school groups, will also be banned from aged care homes as well as social or entertainment events.

Visitors would be restricted to the residents' rooms or outdoor spaces, with no meetings to be held in communal areas. 

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Source: AAP

Older Australians have been identified as more at risk from COVID-19, particularly those with chronic disease. 

Those who are not residents in aged care have also been encouraged to practice social distancing, where possible, to reduce their contact with others. 

Aged Care and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow said the strong measures introduced by the government were necessary.

"At the top of our minds is the need to balance prevention with emotional care and compassion," Ms Sparrow said.

"We wouldn't be taking these measures unless they were absolutely necessary, and providers will be doing everything they can to enforce them."

But Australian Services Union assistant secretary Linda White said the government was forgetting the disability sector as it rolled out measures for aged care.

She called on the government to implement coronavirus measures for the disability sector.

"People with disability, their families and the workers who support them are incredibly worried about what will happen," Ms White said.

Prime Minister Morrison also confirmed Anzac Day ceremonies would be cancelled due to the high proportion of older Australians who attend such events.

This came after RSL's around the country announced they would be suspending their own services.

“There will be a televised national event here in Canberra at the War Memorial,” Mr Morrison said.

“States and Territories may also be one without public gatherings as well which can also be available for broadcast.”

Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy said there are now more than 450 cases of COVID-19 in Australia with increasing numbers each day.

“It is important to remember that the majority of new cases in Australia are still imported cases or direct contacts of imported cases,” he said.

“We are getting on top of them, identifying them, isolating them, contact tracing.”

Prime Minister Morrison said the government is preparing for the impact of the pandemic to last six months or more.

"If we slow the spread, we do save lives and that is very much the strategy the Governments of Australia are following as we move through the crisis."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said there is an "urgency" to respond to the evolving health and economic challenges. 

"We know that the sooner the response, the more effective it will be," he said.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, only people who have recently travelled from overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and experienced symptoms within 14 days are advised to be tested.
 
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
 
If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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Published 18 March 2020 at 1:58pm