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Potential lockdowns for aged care facilities at risk of coronavirus

Aged care facilities may be put into lockdown due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases. This was announced by Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison in a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, ACT on 3 March.

The spreading nature of the virus, called COVID-19, can move from person to person through viral droplets in the air and older Australians are considered an at risk group. [Source: Shutterstock]

The news comes after the death of a 95 year old woman in a Sydney nursing home, Australia’s second death due to the coronavirus, and an aged care worker at the same facility was diagnosed with the virus earlier this week.

The spreading nature of the virus, called COVID-19, can move from person to person through viral droplets in the air and has caused a wave of panic among Australians.

So far, the most susceptible to the virus are older people or people with low immune systems or pre-existing chronic health conditions.

PM Morrison says that Australia will be impacted by the coronavirus and is willing to lockdown aged care facilities to protect some of Australia's most vulnerable.

"Australia is not immune as we've learned, but we are well prepared as any country can be. We will get through this together as a country and we are working this issue together as a country," says PM Morrison. 

"There's also been some very good work done over the course of the last week with the aged care sector. 

"Remember that in particular circumstances, if and in particular locations, if we had concerns, there's the ability to lock down aged care facilities out of protection for the residents in those aged care facilities... That's obviously a more vulnerable sector with people with potential comorbidities."

There has been a confirmed case of coronavirus in a 50 year employee of an aged care facility in Macquarie Park, New South Wales (NSW) on Wednesday.

BaptistCare has confirmed an employee from Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Sydney was diagnosed with coronavirus, and the organisation is working with NSW Health to ensure the safety of their residents and staff.

The staff member infected had not been travelling recently and is believed to be the third instance of human-to-human transmission of the virus in Australia.

NSW Health confirmed the staff member had contact with 13 residents, with 11 of those residents being isolated.

A 95 year old resident at the facility died at the facility on Tuesday and NSW Health confirmed that she tested positive for the coronavirus. Another resident has also been found to have the virus.

On Sunday, a 78 year old Perth man was the first person in the country to die from the coronavirus, he was in lockdown on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. 

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, says that the Government has been working with primary care, aged care and other medical programs in particular ahead of their implementation of the coronavirus pandemic preparedness plan.

Mr Hunt, says, "Globally, we've seen now that over 90,000 cases, for the first time, have been diagnosed as being confirmed with coronavirus. In addition to that, almost 3,100 lives have been lost. And as the Prime Minister said, we now have 75 countries or regions where the virus has been confirmed. 

"Focusing this week on the aged care sector, which is our very, very high priority because of the vulnerability of the elderly - that's my number one priority for this week, is to focus on our aged care sector. And we're making sure, as is the Treasurer, that supply lines are maintained in Australia. 

"The last thing is that in terms of the hospitals, each State and Territory continues to focus on the preparedness of their own hospitals."

The Government is intending to roll out a stimulus package to support the economy, which includes a financial increase for pensioners, following news that Australia is close to going into a recession because of the coronavirus.

Additionally, the aged care sector may have certain aged care facilities audited by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to make sure they are prepared for a coronavirus outbreak.

Peak body for the non-profit aged care industry, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), explains that a lockdown is not unusual for the aged care sector to experience.

ACSA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Patricia Sparrow, says, "Aged care providers are experienced in disease control measures because we are dealing with vulnerable groups every day.  Providers are continuing to implement infection control measures and are continuing to take advice from Government and the Department of Health as the situation evolves.

“Aged care facilities are familiar with lockdown processes and will use this containment approach in the event of flu or other infectious disease outbreaks.

“We've been providing advice and support to our members including special briefing information provided by the department.

”It's important for families and friends to be really careful when visiting aged care homes and to stay away if unwell, even if it's just a common cold. This is a public health issue and we need to work together to protect the older people in residential aged care."

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), aged care peak body, says that the aged care sector has been preparing for virus and infection control measures since the COVID-19 virus began to become a threat in January.

CEO of LASA, Sean Rooney, believes that the protection of older Australia's is not only a priority for the industry, but also a community duty.

“Protecting older Australians in care and the staff who look after them is critical with extensive infection control planning and protocols in place,” says Mr Rooney.

“At the same time, keeping the most vulnerable older Australians safe is a broader responsibility. It is extremely concerning that we do not know the source of the virus that has infected this dedicated aged care worker.

"Nursing homes are aware of this potential and will comply with official requirements. Infection control is a core responsibility for providers and it is imperative the sector continues to work closely with the Federal and State Departments of Health. Furthermore, the wider community has a role to play in being vigilant to reduce the risk of infection.

"The Aged Care Quality Standards include infection control standards and measures. These cover potential restrictions on visitations to aged care homes including allied health providers, medical practitioners, pharmacists, ambulance officers, staff and all other potential visitors who would be advised of the presence of infection, and directed not to visit.

"Special infection control protocols for visitation may be available in a health emergency situation. Alternative contacts could be made via telephone, video calling and email. The top priority is protecting residents in care, the staff who care for them and the wider community."

Coronavirus has created a surge in panic around Australia, with footage of people scrambling for extra supplies, including toilet paper, hand sanitiser and tinned cans of food.

The virus can be passed through human contact, but depends on the duration of your contact with a person with the virus, how close you were with an infectious person, if there were viral droplets passed from a person with the virus through a cough or sneeze, or the amount of times you touch an object or surface contaminated by a cough or sneeze from a contaminated person or touch your face.

It would most likely not be passed if you happened to walk past someone who was infected with COVID-19 strain and would need to enter through your eyes, nose and/or mouth.

Additionally, it can be difficult to know if you do have COVID-19, since the symptoms of the virus can range from mild cold-like symptoms to causing more serious diseases, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The best way to reduce the risk of coronavirus is by washing your hands often with soap and water before or after eating and after going to the toilet, covering your cough or sneeze, and if you do become unwell, reduce physical contact with people.

There are still a lot of unknowns around COVID-19 and whether it will reach a pandemic level.

For more information about COVID-19, head to the Department of Health website.


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