In a press conference this afternoon, the prime minister said the federal government will intervene if aged care providers continue to impose visitor bans.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said if providers can not follow the government’s guidelines, they will be required to seek the government’s permission to impose lockdowns.
The Minister for Aged Care, Hon Richard Colbeck and Chief Medical Officer, Brendon Murphy will meet via video call with the peak bodies and aged care providers this evening to discuss the issue, which is emerging as a major point of difference between the government and aged care providers.
“National cabinet has continued to stress its concern about restrictions that are being put in place in aged care facilities,” Mr Morrison said.
“So, we are flagging that should we not see an improvement in this area… that the commonwealth would be moving to require aged care facilities that wish to have an exemption to those national principles… then they would need to seek authority to do that from the commonwealth,” he said.
Mr Morrison said there are “valid reasons” to impose lockdowns, citing the examples of north-west Tasmania and western Sydney. Lockdowns in scenarios such as these are “entirely sensible” and “totally reasonable”, he said.
But in most cases, these strong restrictions are not necessary, Mr Morrison stated.
“Having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that’s not OK,” he said, echoing his comments earlier in the week.
“We are not going to have these as secret places, where people can’t access them,” he said.
Total lockdowns are not supported by government
This afternoon the aged care minister Richard Colbeck issued a statement reiterating the prime minister’s position.
“Total lock downs of facilities… (are) not supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee or the National Cabinet,” he said.
“Contact with family and friends during this difficult time can be a vital link to ensure the health and wellbeing of Senior Australians in care,” Mr Colbeck said.
“The AHPPC is concerned that in some cases this level of contact is not being maintained. It is not okay that residents should remain completely cut off from loved ones or their carers. This is particularly important for those residents with dementia.”
So, what are the government’s guidelines?
The government’s current guidelines for visitors to aged care facilities during COVID-19 are as follows.
“This guidance draws on what has already been learned from experiences with recent COVID-19 outbreaks,” Mr Colbeck said.
Do not visit aged care facilities if you have:
- returned from overseas in the last 14 days
- been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
- have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory infection such as a cough, sore throat or shortness of breath
From 1 May 2020, anyone who visits an aged care facility must have had a flu vaccination.
Visits must be kept short and no more than two visitors, including doctors, are allowed at a time. Visits can occur in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area they designate. There should be no visiting in communal areas.
There should be no large group visits or gatherings, no school groups, and no children aged 16 years or under are permitted to visit residential aged care facilities except in special circumstances.
“If you cannot visit your family and friends in a residential aged care facility, it’s important to keep in touch. Make phone or video calls, send postcards, photos or artwork or film short videos to share,” the guidelines state.
According to a fact sheet for families and carers, aged care providers should manage cases “compassionately, especially when it relates to end-of-life situations, palliative care and dementia units”.