COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information

LAST UPDATED: As at 31 March 2020

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FACTSHEET for older Australians

Download an information Factsheet for older Australians, their family and friends about how to protect older Australians from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-older-australians


Information on COVID-19

Australia is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19. This virus has spread quickly across the world. In Australia, we have been able to take steps to slow the rate of infection. To continue this trend we all need to work together to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 can cause respiratory infections, ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases. Older Australians (people age 60+), especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, and people with compromised immune systems, are among those at risk of the more serious symptoms of Coronavirus

Even if you are feeling well it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of this virus. Good hygiene, and taking care when interacting with other people, are the best defences for you and your family against COVID-19.

The spread of COVID-19 and Australia’s response is evolving. We will update this website as more information becomes available. The information on this page is based on the latest advice from the Australian Government, and from other authoritative sources when there is no advice from the Australian Government.

Where to go for trustworthy information about the virus

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to the Australian Government website. Go to www.health.gov.au.

The Department of Health website is the best place to go for accurate information on:

  • Preventing the disease;
  • What to do if you think you might have COVID-19;
  • What to do if you are worried about getting prescription medicine
  • Understanding more about the symptoms of the virus

COTA Australia has been working with the Government, and with the media, to make sure that people are getting clear and consistent information. This has been challenging, as there is a lot of misinformation, both on social media and mass media .

For accurate information on COVID-19, please rely on information from the Australian Government and your state or territory health department.

FACTSHEETS and other RESOURCES from official sources

The Australian Government has developed the following fact sheets:

The Australian Department of Health have also produced a range of videos on COVID-19, including this one for older Australians:

COVID-19 Australia - older Australians

More videos, podcasts and posters are available here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-campaign-resources

State and Territory Government resources

Many state and territory governments have also developed a number of helpful tools and information. A selection of helpful ones is available here:

Find out more about restrictions in your state or territory by visiting:

Other reliable resources

You may also find useful resources on the HealthDirect website. Go to: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus

There is also a National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.

The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts.

When to see a doctor

Feeling unwell does not mean you must be tested for COVID-19. Most people displaying symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or fatigue may be suffering from a cold, flu, allergies or other respiratory illness – not COVID-19. However, if you develop symptoms within 14 days of last contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, and/or you have just returned to Australia, you should seek medical attention.

Your doctor will advise if you need to get tested. This decision will be based on criteria which are available here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-covid-19#testing

Testing has been recently expanded to include:

  • Health care workers and aged care workers with fever or acute respiratory infections; and
  • people living in high risk settings (including residential aged care) where there are two or more people have respiratory infections.
  • People with severe pneumonia, where there isn’t a clear cause (called a ‘suspect case’)

You may wish to check your symptoms using healthdirect’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker. The symptom checker is available here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/symptom-checker/tool/basic-details.

You can also call the National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19. The number is 1800 020 080. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.

Can I go out in public?

For the most up-to-date information on this question, please visit here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

On 29 March, the National Cabinet announced a limit on both indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only. There are however some clear exemptions to this rule:

  • People in the same household, or members of a single family unit
  • Funerals – a maximum of 10 people
  • Weddings – a maximum of 5 people

Each State and Territory may choose to mandate and/or enforce this requirement. Essentially, for most day-to-day activities you should only be socialising with members of your household and/or family unit, plus no more than one other person at a time.

In addition, the National Cabinet issued strong advice for older Australians. The advice is that you should stay home and self isolate if you:

  • Are over 70 years of age;
  • Are over 60 years of age and have existing health conditions or comorbidities;
  • Are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian, over the age of 50, who have existing health conditions or comorbidities.

Self-isolating means that you stay home. Consider home delivery of groceries, medicines and other essentials (more information on getting groceries is available here). If you must leave your home, you should limit contact with others as much as possible.

You can go beyond your home for the purposes of essential shopping, medical appointments, compassionate reasons, going to work if necessary, getting fresh air or walking the dog or getting necessary exercise, but you should limit contact with others as much as possible. You can be accompanied by one family member, friend or support person.

For more information on what to do if you are self-isolating, head to the following website: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-isolation-guidance

It is important to maintain a routine, to exercise in the home, and outside if safe from contact with others, and to take steps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and boredom. Tips on how to self-isolate can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-isolation-guidance

Mandatory Self-isolation

Australia has enacted federal biosecurity protocols, and States and Territories have declared states of emergency. This means there are additional, enforceable restrictions for certain groups of people.:

  • You have COVID-19
  • You have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • You have arrived from overseas.

If you are in these categories, the State/Territory health department will be in contact with you. You will be required to nominate an address and cannot leave the property. The State/Territory health department will support you to ensure you have any food or medicines you may need. There will be compliance spot-checks to ensure that you are at your nominated address.

The borders are now closed between a number of States and Territories. If you have permission from the State/Territory Government to cross a closed border, you may also be required to self-isolate. If you are travelling interstate, please check the website of the state or territory you are travelling to for the most up-to-date information.

If you are not required to self-isolate

If you are not required to self-isolate, and you are feeling well, it is fine to go out in public. However, you should not gather in groups of more than two people, and in a number of States and Territories you are prohibited from doing so at risk of very serios fines.

When you go out in public, it is very important that you  practice social distancing, and good personal hygiene.

It is permitted to use public transport – including buses, trains, trams and ferries. This is considered ‘essential travel’. However, as an older person if you have an alternative it would be good to use that.

It is also fine to do daily activities such as going for a walk outdoors, exercising and walking the dog. Indeed, continuing to exercise and spend time outdoors has positive mental and physical health benefits. Spending time enjoying the outdoors can help to reduce some of the stress or boredom of spending too much time in one place.

What do the restrictions on public and private gatherings mean for me?

On 29 March, National Cabinet agreed to limit non-essential gatherings to no more than two people. This applies to indoor, outdoor and private gatherings including your own home.

This means that you should not have more than one friend visit you in your home for a cup of tea, or join you for a walk in the park. In a number of States and Territories this is mandatory and will be enforced with legal penalties.

Exemptions exist for:

  • The people that you live with in one household;
  • Members of one family unit visiting in each home;
  • Work or study, where it cannot be done remotely;
  • Funerals (a maximum of 10 people); and
  • Weddings (a maximum of 5 people).

Work includes homecare workers and disability support workers. If your service requires more than one support worker, your service will be unaffected by this new rule.

Does the virus stay on surfaces?

Yes. The virus is spread through tiny droplets, that are released when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus can be spread through touching contaminated objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables), and then touching your mouth, eyes or face. Fortunately, common household disinfectants can kill the virus. Its important that shared or communal objects are cleaned regularly. Always use proper hand hygiene, washing hands regularly and avoiding touching your mouth, eyes or face.

Researchers are still determining how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces. The Australian Government has not yet released advice on how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces. You may wish to consider the advice from NSW Health:

 “According to the World Health Organization, it is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).”

The NSW health advice is available here: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx#1-4

Can I visit friends and family in residential aged care?

It is important to take reasonable steps to protect residents, visitors and staff. There are special measures in place to stop the spread of the virus through residential aged care facilities. The Australian Government has developed a fact sheet on these special measures (see below).

A chat over the phone, video call or email – rather than visits in person – is a good precaution and could help stop the spread of COVID-19.

However, we understand that you may still wish to visit loved ones in person, especially if you have been doing so very frequently and assisting with care, feeding and support.  If you are visiting a facility, you are likely to need to change the way you do things. A fact sheet is available here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-families-and-residents-on-restricted-visits-to-residential-aged-care-facilities

There is also a fact sheet available to assist residential aged care facilities to understand the precautions necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is available here: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-retirement-villages.pdf

I’m no longer able to see my loved one in aged care. What can I do?

Some aged care providers have closed their facilities to all visitors. This is a difficult decision, made to protect all older people living in the facility.

We understand that this is very difficult for families. If visiting in person is not possible, consider a chat over the phone, video call, letter, postcard or email.

COTA is calling on all aged care facilities to enforce their preventative lockdowns with compassion and respect for families and residents. This includes encouraging them to facilitate safe access for families during end-of-life situations, palliative care plans, and where family provide additional ‘care and support’ for residents, especially those with dementia, and/or assistance with feeding.

If you have concerns with the facility’s actions, contact the Older Persons Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600 or make a complaint to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822.

What about end of life/palliative care?

Visiting a friend or family member facing the end of life is difficult but important. We understand that it is an emotional time. We know that you will want to visit your loved one and may wish to bring other friends and family with you. The Prime Minister has given palliative care as a specific example of an exception to the general rules – with full safety and hygiene precautions in place of course.

There can be other exceptions. Each residential aged care provider will be making their own arrangements for visitors. It’s up to the facility to find the right balance of care and compassion, and protecting other residents. Facilities are required to continue to uphold all the Aged Care Standards. Please contact the facility before you plan to visit, so that arrangements can be made.
If you are unhappy with the response from your facility you may contact the Older Persons Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600 or make a complaint to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822.

Dementia and COVID-19

Having a daily routine is helpful for people with dementia. The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that many people’s daily routine has had to change. To avoid the spread of COVID-19, many scheduled activities have been cancelled or disrupted. Dementia Australia have developed a number of fact sheets on dementia and COVID-19, available below:

You may also wish to call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 if you have more questions about dementia and COVID-19.

Mental health and COVID-19

Many people are feeling anxious, distressed and concerned around the COVID-19 outbreak. It is important to ask for help if you need it.

Take proactive steps to help you to cope during the difficult times. These steps may include:

  • Stay connected with friends and family (consider a phone call or video call). Check in regularly with loved ones, and let people know if you are feeling lonely.
  • Get trusted information on Coronavirus. Misinformation can make us feel anxious, or cause unnecessary stress and worry.
  • Limit how much time you spend watching or reading the news. It’s no secret that watching the news can make us feel stressed and depressed right now. It’s important to keep informed as the virus progresses, but if it’s becoming overwhelming, it might be time to turn the news off for a few hours.
  • Look after your physical health too, by getting fresh air and exercise, and watching what you eat.
  • Put a structure in your day. Having a regular routine can help you feel more in control of your day, help you get essential tasks done, and schedule time for keeping in contact with friends or family.
  • Seek professional help when you need it. This may mean seeking information online, or calling a helpline to talk about your concerns.

Its ok if you are struggling. These are difficult times. Help is out there if you need it (see Helplines below). Check in with your friends and family. Look after yourself.

Helplines

The Australian Government has announced that it is establishing a COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service, which will provide free counselling by mental health professionals. This is in response to the growing demand for mental health support as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. It will be offered by Beyond Blue, and more information will be available soon.

The following helplines are currently available:

  • Lifeline: 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14
  • BeyondBlue offers short term counselling and referrals by phone. Call 1300 224 636.
  • Carers Australia: Short-term counselling psychological support services for carers and their families. Call 1800 242 636
  • 1800Respect: Confidential information, counselling and support service open 24 hours to support people impacted by domestic or family violence and abuse. Call 1800 737 732
  • Mensline: A telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way. Call 1300 789 978
  • National Debt Helpline: free and confidential advice from professional financial counsellors. The hotline is open from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday. 1800 007 007

Online information

The Australian Government has launched a plan to provide mental health supports during COVID-19. Information on this is available here: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/03/covid-19-national-health-plan-supporting-the-mental-health-of-australians-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic.pdf

Can I get help if I can’t buy things I need at my local shops?

Unfortunately, many supermarkets have been running low on basic groceries and foodstuffs. Certain items are still in extremely short supply. Major supermarkets supply chains are taking steps to address this.

Some supermarkets have special arrangements for older people. Please see ‘special supermarket opening hours’ below, or contact your local supermarket directly for more information.

You may also order online and have things delivered to your home, though some of these services are currently suspended due to the amount of requests they have received. Some supermarkets are giving priority to isolated older people and other vulnerable groups (see below). If you are not able to do this, a family member, friend or neighbour may be able to help.

Woolworths have introduced an $80 ‘Basics Box’, which provides meals, snacks and a few essentials for those who are unable to visit stores. The products are available at cost price and are delivered to your home. For more information, click here: https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/page/woolworths-basics-box?icmpid=sm-hp-hero3:other:other:wk39

Some supermarkets are prioritising home delivery for vulnerable people, including older Australians and people with disability. Please see ‘Priority Assistance Delivery’ below.

Community organisations in your area may also be able to help. We will update this factsheet with information about this as it becomes available.

Priority Assistance Delivery

Woolworths and Coles are prioritising home delivery for those who need it most. These delivery services are for older people, people with a disability, people who are immuncomprimised, and those who are required to self-isolate. See the information below.

Woolworths: Over 100 Woolworth stores are becoming Priority Delivery Hubs. These hubs will reduce trading hours to 11am-6pm. This will allow them to increase delivery services for online orders.  To apply for Priority Assistance delivery, customers need to complete the form at www.woolworths.com.au/priorityassistance or call 1800 000 610 to find out more.

Coles:  Coles Online Priority Service (COPS) will be launched soon. Information on this will be provided once it becomes available

Special supermarket opening hours for older Australians

Special measures, such as additional opening hours, have been introduced at major supermarkets to help older Australians, and people with disabilities, get access to the supplies they need.

Two major retailers are opening one hour prior to their revised usual trading hours. These special hours are available exclusively for older people and people with a disability. You will be asked to present your Australian Government (Centrelink) issued Pensioner Concession Card or Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, or Health Care Card or your state Government issued ‘Seniors Cards’ or ‘Companion card’.

See the times below:

Woolworths:  07:00am to 08:00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Coles: 07:00am to 08:00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Woolworths and Coles will also be open on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings exclusively for emergency services and healthcare workers.

Hours may vary by store, so check with your local supermarket.

Other supermarkets may also have special arrangements for older people. Please contact your local supermarket directly for more information.

Information can be found here for Woolworths and Coles.

Can I still pay using cash?

Many stores are now limiting the use of cash. This is to protect cashiers, and the wider community, from the spread of disease. It is possible for the virus to persist on surfaces, including coins and banknotes. As such, many retailers (including grocery stores) are now accepting card-only payments.

We understand that this can be a problem if you don’t have a bank card. If you do not have a bank card, you can contact your bank to urgently request one.

In the meantime, grocery stores should have at least one register that takes cash upon request. Please speak to the store manager if you do not have a bank card to pay for your goods.

If there are no registers taking cash at all, please let us know so we can follow up with the store either 02 6154 9740 or cota@cota.org.au.

I have tickets to an upcoming event. What should I do next?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) website has the latest information on consumer rights, travel and event cancellations in relation to COVID-19. It can be found here: https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/covid-19-coronavirus-information-for-consumers

I have an upcoming trip planned. Can I still go?

The Prime Minister and other leaders are urging all Australians to not travel unless it’s essential to do so. These social distancing rules help stop the spread of COVID-19 and will help to protect older and other vulnerable Australians. This includes travel within your state such as for Easter holidays or travel interstate. It even includes rethinking visiting friends locally.

The current advice is to avoid all non-essential domestic travel. This advice is likely to be in place for some months. While essential travel such as going to work if you cannot work from home, medical appointments, grocery shopping and other such travel is considered essential, please consider keeping all travel to an absolute minimum.

States and Territories have their own restrictions. Some have closed their borders, while others may have restrictions for visiting particular areas (including regional or remote areas).

If you have had to cancel an upcoming trip, and would like information on travel refunds or cancellations, go to: https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/covid-19-coronavirus-information-for-consumers

If you have overseas travel planned, please follow the advice on SmartTraveller. The website will contain the most up-to-date information on travel restrictions and advice. This can be found here: https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/crisis/covid-19-and-travel

I received an email/sms/phone call about COVID-19 from someone I don’t trust – is it a scam?

Unfortunately, there have been multiple reports of scams related to COVID-19. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19, please rely on Australian Government material.

If you receive communication that you think may be a scam, delete the messages. Do not open any attachments, and do not click on any links. If you think someone may have accessed your financial information, contact your bank immediately.

For the most up-to-date information on scams in Australia, please go to https://www.staysmartonline.gov.au/ or call 1300 292 371.

What is COTA Australia doing?

COTA Australia has been actively working to make sure the needs of older people are being prioritised. We have been working closely with:

  • Australian Government (including the Department of Health);
  • Politicians and decision makers;
  • Media organisations;
  • community organisations;
  • health organisations;
  • aged care providers;
  • supermarkets;
  • many others

How do I contact my State or Territory COTA?

The contact details for State and Territory COTA’s can be found here: https://www.cota.org.au/get-involved/visit-stateor-territory-cota/