COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) information

LAST UPDATED: 29 May 2020

COVID-19 Supportline

The Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line provides information and support for Older Australians, their relatives, carers, friends or supporters on 1800 171 866.

Jump to:

What’s the situation with COVID-19 in Australia? – UPDATED

Where can I find accurate information about COVID-19? – UPDATED

I think I have the symptoms, what should I do? – UPDATED

What information is available Older Australians?

How can I tell which information is accurate? – UPDATED

What about my normal/routine healthcare needs? – UPDATED

Do I need a Flu vaccination?

Elective surgery – UPDATED

Visiting a dentist – UPDATED

Can I go out in public? – UPDATED

How do I tell if I am at extra risk?

Should I wear a mask in public? – UPDATED

Can I go on public transport?

I’m under financial stress due to COVID-19. What should I do?

How have arrangements for banking and payments changed? – UPDATED

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

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

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

Pets and COVID-19

Where can I find out about restrictions in my area?

Do extra restrictions apply to Older Australians?

Dementia and COVID-19

Mental health and COVID-19 – UPDATED

My parent/family member/friend is an Aged Care Resident, can I visit? – UPDATED

What about end of life/palliative care?

What is COTA Australia doing?

How do I contact my State or Territory COTA?

What’s the situation with COVID-19 in Australia? – UPDATED

Australia continues to experience outbreaks of COVID-19. The virus spread quickly across the world, and this is likely to continue. Australia has been relatively successful in minimising the rate of infection, but many people have already become very ill, and some have died. To keep Australians safe, we will need to continue working together to keep the spread of COVID-19 contained.

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. This includes:

  • covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • disposing of tissues immediately they are used, into a dedicated waste bin and washing your hands
  • washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet, and when you have been out to shops or other places
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers, where available
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched
  • where possible, stay 1.5 metres away from other people – an example of “social distancing”
  • if you are sick, avoiding contact with others.

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 can I find accurate information about COVID-19? – UPDATED

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;
  • 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.

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:

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.

I think I have the symptoms, what should I do? – UPDATED

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 you should seek medical attention.

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.

What information is available 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

How can I tell which information is accurate? – UPDATED

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 can be a lot of misinformation, both on social media and mass media.

Please rely on information that comes from an “official source” such the Australian Government or your State or Territory Government. You may also be interested in COVID-19 information from the Australian Government including information on mythbusting https://www.australia.gov.au/covid-19-mythbusting and any scams https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/current-covid-19-coronavirus-scams

What about my normal/routine healthcare needs? – UPDATED

Visiting a GP or regular specialist

If you are unwell with another illness, or are receiving routine healthcare (such as vaccinations, or routine tests), your medical centre likely has some strategies in place to prevent the spread of disease. This can include:

  • Implementing distancing measures in doctors waiting rooms (such as spacing chairs 1.5m apart)
  • Delivering care via videolink (see telehealth)
  • Requiring visitors to use hand sanitiser upon arrival
  • Requiring anyone with a fever or flu-like symptoms to contact the GP office before visiting

Medicines and repeat prescriptions

For information on medicines and repeat prescriptions during COVID-19, click here: https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/ensuring-continued-access-to-medicines-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Telehealth

Telehealth is the provision of health services via teleconference. Using telehealth means that you can have a consultation with your GP, psychologist, allied health practitioner and others via a video application (like Facetime or Skype). Using telehealth can be a great way to ensure social distancing, and minimise travel to/from your health appointment.

This is particularly useful for people who have simple requests, such as a repeat prescription for their medication, or for routine chronic disease management. It can also be used for discussing acute illness or injury, but your doctor may decide they need to see you in person depending on the type of treatment or test that is required.

From 13 March 2020 to 30 September 2020, telehealth has been expanded so that everyone with a Medicare card is eligible for telehealth services. Providers are also required to bulk bill for the provision of telehealth to the following groups:

  • Commonwealth concession card holders;
  • children under 16 years of age; and
  • patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 (including people over the age of 70, people who are immunocompromised and people who are being treated for a chronic health condition).

More information on this is available here: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/04/covid-19-national-health-plan-primary-care-package-mbs-telehealth-services-and-increased-practice-incentive-payments-covid-19-national-health-plan-primary-care-package-mbs-telehealth-services-and-increased-practice-incenti_0.pdf

If you are interested in using telehealth for your next medical appointment, please contact the provider/GPs office directly to discuss this option.

Do I need a Flu vaccination?

There is no immunisation for COVID-19. However, people with COVID-19 are prone to secondary infections, including becoming infected with influenza and pneumococcal. In 2020, the influenza vaccination has been released early. This is to prevent infection of both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. It will also reduce pressure on the health system.

The influenza vaccine is available free for particular groups, including those age 65 and over, under the National Immunisation Program schedule. More information about this can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule

COTA Australia is encouraging everyone who is able to the influenza vaccine to do so.

Having an up-to-date flu vaccine is a requirement if you intend to visit a residential aged care facility.

Elective surgery – UPDATED

Elective surgery has resumed in most cases, however the situation for different conditions and different hospitals vary. Seek information from your healthcare provider about your circumstance.

Visiting a dentist – UPDATED

Dental practices are now moving to level 1 restrictions, which means there are some restrictions on the type of treatments that can be provided). In some areas, higher level restrictions will continue to apply, and routine examinations and treatments may be postponed.

If you are on the waiting list for public dental, you will not lose your place on the list.

The Australian Dental Association has developed a website to keep the public up to date about the availability of services here: https://www.ada.org.au/Covid-19-Portal/For-the-public

Or, contact your dentist for specific information.

Can I go out in public? – UPDATED

As restrictions ease in some parts of Australia, they remain in force in others. Even though restrictions have eased in your area, many older Australians remain at high risk.  The strong advice from National Cabinet is that Older Australians should remain in their home 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.

This doesn’t mean you can’t see your family if you really want to, or that you can’t go for a walk. But it does mean that you should be extra vigilant with your physical distancing measures, limit their interactions while outside the house and keep 1.5metres distances from others.

It is important to maintain a routine, to exercise in the home (including your garden if you have one), and outside if safe from contact with others, and to take steps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and boredom.

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

Should I wear a mask in public? – UPDATED

Most people will not benefit from wearing a surgical mask. Masks are of benefit to people who are sick so they don’t cough on others, and health care workers who have frequent, close contact with sick people.

However, the following groups are required to wear masks:

  • Healthcare workers who have close contact with sick people
  • Those with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19
  • those who are required to isolate because they have returned from overseas, or have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

A factsheet on masks can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/04/coronavirus-covid-19-information-on-the-use-of-surgical-masks_0.pdf

Additional information on masks can also be found here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-how-to-avoid-infection-faqs#mask

If you are a healthcare worker, there is additional information on Personal Protective Equipment that can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-resources-for-health-professionals-including-aged-care-providers-pathology-providers-and-healthcare-managers#personal-protective-equipment-ppe

I’m under financial stress due to COVID-19. What should I do?

We understand that there are many people who have been stood down from work during this period, or struggling to meet living costs due to COVID-19. The Australian Government has introduced income support packages to help ease some of this pressure.

Jobseeker, Jobkeeper and the Economic Support Payment

Everything you need to know about Jobseeker, Jobkeeper and stimulus package payments can be found on the Services Australia website. The website is here: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/subjects/affected-coronavirus-covid-19

If you are affected by COVID-19, and need to register for income support, you do not need to complete a full claim right away. You may wish to register your intention. If you are found to be eligible for income support, your payment will be backdated to the date at which you registered your intention. You can do this here: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/subjects/affected-coronavirus-covid-19/if-you-need-payment-coronavirus-covid-19/register-your-intention-claim-payment-coronavirus-covid-19

You may also be eligible for the Economic Support Payment. If you are currently receiving income support payments, you don’t need to do anything to claim the Economic Support Payment, as it will be included with your regular payment.

If you are not currently receiving the payment, you will need to provide your bank details Services Australia. You can do this online through myGov, or call Services Australia. More information on this can be found here: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/economic-support-payment/how-get-it

Seeking financial advice/support

The Australian Government’s Moneysmart website has a dedicated section on COVID-19 and decision making. This can be found here: https://moneysmart.gov.au/covid-19

You may also wish to call the National debt hotline on 1800 007 007, More information on the hotline is available here: https://ndh.org.au/

Early access to superannuation

From 20 April 2020, eligible people may be eligible to access up to $10,000 of their super in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. COTA Australia does not offer financial advice. However, we are committed to protecting the retirement incomes of older Australians. We know that taking money out of your superannuation now may mean that you miss you miss out on tens of thousands of dollars in retirement further down the track. We strongly advise that you explore all other options before dipping into superannuation. Seeking professional financial advice before making this decision, if possible is important to understand the impact this may have on your retirement income.

How have arrangements for banking and payments changed? – UPDATED

Many stores are now limiting the use of cash in order to protect cashiers from the spread of disease. Some stores, particularly smaller retailers are now only accepting card-only payments. Most 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.

Australian’s banks have recognised that with lots of branches closed, and many retailers refusing to take cash, Older Australians who rely on cash transactions are facing difficulty banking. To help, they are issuing debit cards to anyone who does not have one. These cards are not active and will need to be activated by calling the bank before they can be used. They are not a credit card, and once activated, will only provide access to money in the customer’s account.

More information can be found by calling your bank or visiting https://www.ausbanking.org.au/debitcard/ Or http://www.customerownedbanking.asn.au/media-a-resources/media-release-alerts/1416-fast-tracking-of-debit-cards-to-help-vulnerable-customers-dependent-on-cash

If you are unable to obtain a bank-issued card and need a non-cash temporary solution you can purchase a VISA or Mastercard gift card from a larger retailer who may still be accepting cash.  Some cards are one-off, others are reloadable, so you may wish to consider what type best suits your circumstances. Some of the commonly available cards from larger retailers include:

More information on prepaid VISA cards are available here or pre-paid Mastercard cards here.

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? – UPDATED

The Prime Minister and other leaders are urging all Australians to avoid 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.

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.

Pets and COVID-19

Its ok to take your dog for a walk. This is a great way to get outside, get some exercise, and look after your pets’ wellbeing. If you are self-isolating, consider talking to a friend or family about making sure your pets’ needs are still being met.

There is no evidence of COVID-19 virus transmission of the virus from domestic animals. It is safe to pat and interact with your pet. However, if you are touching a leash, or kennel, that other humans may have touched, wash your hands.

For more information on domestic animals, including importing restrictions, please see the following: https://www.agriculture.gov.au/coronavirus/animals

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 – UPDATED

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 partnered with Beyond Blue to provide the COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service you can call them on 1800 512 348.

Other helplines are also 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 mental health assistance related to COVID-19 can be found here: https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/

Other online options include:

My parent/family member/friend is an Aged Care Resident, can I visit? – UPDATED

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. This has included changing arrangements for visitors.

A nationally consistent approach has been agreed for visitors to aged care facilities. This is designed to both protect vulnerable aged care residents from COVID-19, and ensure visits can still take place.

Information is available here:

https://www.cota.org.au/policy/aged-care-reform/agedcarevisitors/

If you have concerns about a 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.

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/