Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says this advice has come from the Communicable Disease Network of Australia (CDNA) and has been provided to Australian aged care facilities to put in these precautionary measures for their residents, staff and their families.
One of the recommendations from the CDNA is for family and friends to reduce their visits to relatives in aged care facilities, especially if their family member in aged care has a current chronic illness.
Minister Colbeck says, "Given the risks to older Australians from COVID 19, particularly those with chronic disease and other frailties, we now recommend that residential aged care providers restrict visitor access.
"Our plan is to slow the spread [of the virus] to save lives. We know that visitations are important and we will ensure that this is respected. The restrictions will be handled professionally and sensitively."
In regards to people in palliative care, the Minister says he is understanding that these restrictions could put an emotional burden on families.
The Department of Health intends to continue working with industry peak bodies to develop more detailed guidelines from the CDNA about visitor access, management of non-compliant residents and physical distancing.
Minister Colbeck adds that this limited visitation measure is important for people over 60 and those with chronic illness.
These guidelines are aiming to bolster the Government's current $2.4 billion health package unveiled last week.
Minister Colbeck says, "Communication with the sector, and with each other, will remain key during this season of uncertainty.
“We continue to encourage residents, staff and their families to practice good hygiene, act on advice as it becomes available and importantly, understand this situation will improve.”
Peak body for aged care, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), believes the safety of older Australian and the workforce taking care of them is paramount and understands the difficult decision made by the Government today.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LASA, Sean Rooney, says, "This is a shared responsibility between the aged care sector and the entire community.
"LASA supports measures that seek to mitigate the risk of vulnerable older Australians becoming infected with COVID-19. This includes Minister Colbeck’s suggested restrictions to visitations in aged care homes.
"Many aged care providers are ahead of the curve, having already reduced visitation before today’s announcement. This is about protecting our most vulnerable and saving lives, and we ask all families and friends of loved ones to cooperate.
"In the past few days, some homes have undertaken intensified security measures including preventing entry for everyone except essential staff or contractors, with all people admitted subject to intensive screening."
Mr Rooney says that some homes who have high risk residents have been temperature testing and have been asking about any overseas travel from all entrants, including staff and contractors, for weeks now.
There have also been cases of facilities reducing visits by children and school groups, and some volunteer groups have been stopped for the time being.
Nursing homes are making sure that all people who have a family member or friend in aged care understand and follow personal hygiene recommendations to minimise the coronavirus threat, and not enter aged care if they are already sick.
Mr Rooney says, "Providers are following the directions of the Department of Health and the CDNA and LASA is keeping them constantly updated. Home care providers are also working hard to protect their clients and staff and are intensifying their efforts, in the wake of the increasing threat of COVID-19.
"While residential care sites can be secured and entrants carefully vetted to protect residents and staff, older people receiving home care within the community are highly vulnerable to the spread of the virus.
"We will continue working tirelessly with agencies and the Government to ensure aged care in the home is a critical part of the COVID-19 response."
Non-profit aged care peak body, Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA), also supports the restricted visitations to safe guard older Australians during this difficult time.
CEO of ACSA, Patricia Sparrow, says, "Some providers have already made decisions to restrict visitors and we agree that limiting the movement of people in and out of vulnerable areas like aged care is prudent at this time.
“It’s a balancing act to ensure protection and continue to meet social and spiritual needs of residents. We understand that this is a difficult and stressful time for aged care residents as well as their friends and families, but the first priority must be controlling the spread of the virus and protecting older people.
“It’s always important for families and friends to be careful when visiting aged care homes, and to stay away if unwell, and this is now more important than ever. In the meantime, we encourage those who are worried to keep in touch with loved ones via the phone, video calling or social media.
"We will be supporting members to communicate clearly and efficiently about the restrictions, including making suggestions for how to stay in contact when visiting is hard or not possible."
Visit the Department of Health website for facts sheets on COVID-19 and any other information, or if you are concerned about your health, call the 24 hour Coronavirus Health Information Line, run by healthdirect, on 1800 020 080.