OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Health and aged care sector

Consistent with the directions from the Australian Department of Health, we call on the community to do all within its means to protect the elderly from infection with coronavirus by:

  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you’ve recently returned from overseas
  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you’ve been in contact with someone with a known or suspected case of coronavirus
  • Not visiting aged care facilities or contact elderly family, friends or community members if you have a fever or symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Limiting and shortening visits to the elderly
  • Ensuring visits are capped at 2 visitors at one time per day
  • Not visiting elderly in communal areas where there are many elderly people in close confines
  • Not visiting the elderly as part of a school group
  • Prohibiting children under 16 from visiting aged care facilities.
  • Showing evidence that you have received your 2020 flu vaccination
  • Maintaining 1.5m social distancing rules

Please refer to the Australian Department of Health guidelines for aged care facilities and staff.

Health sector

It is imperative that our frontline staff are equipped to protect themselves against infection whilst looking after their patients in hospital and community settings.

The Commonwealth Government has developed some useful material for the health sector workforce, especially in support of how business can run safely and effectively despite the disruption of the pandemic.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

The Commonwealth Government says that personal protective equipment should be used when caring for someone with confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. This includes gown, mask, eye shield and gloves. PPE should be donned before entering the patient’s room and removed before leaving. Hands should be sanitised or washed after removing PPE.

In community settings, like general practices, pharmacies and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, PPE will be supplied by the Primary Health Network (PHN). Use of PPE should be the same as above. In case of suspected or confirmed cases, the same precautions should be taken.

Like many other professions, there are many in health who have asthma and who are worried about their individual vulnerability in the context of patient care. There are also those who are worried about the vulnerability of their families in the case that the health carer might return from work carrying the virus. There are occasions where the family member might be especially vulnerable due to an existing medical condition or due to their age. These are all understandable concerns.

Asthma Australia would like to encourage employees in the health sector to discuss their concerns with their supervisor at work. If the employee falls into the vulnerable categories, they should be adapting their working practices to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Where their day to day role involves close contact with people, this will need to be discussed and negotiated between employees and employers. Indeed, all requirements of the day to day role, including the need to commute to work if this involves public transport, need to be discussed and negotiated. This might also apply to employees who are the main carers of family members who fall into the vulnerable category. The health sector is acutely aware of the importance of doing all it can to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and especially avoiding infection in those particularly vulnerable so employers are likely to be receptive to alternative solutions discussed around the unique vulnerability of those who fall into those categories. Refer to Safework Australia for further information about the workplace requirements.

State and Commonwealth Governments are employing measures to change the way health care is delivered. The main thrust of this relates to the telehealth space and the provision of resources to the health sector to enable the delivery of health care

over the phone and via video. This is another way staff and patients can maintain their social distancing and maximise safety. More on the telehealth opportunity can be found here. Asthma Australia on behalf of people with asthma would like to thank the 10s of thousands of Australian health care workers and health facility staff who continue to provide critical care and a safe environment for our patients across the country. Without you we would have no chance and little hope in getting through this pandemic.

Schools

State governments are responsible for the decisions to open schools and managing risks within their school environments during the Coronavirus pandemic. Please refer to your state Department of Education updates or updates provided directly by your school for the latest information on how your children will continue their education in your state:

The Commonwealth Government committee of advisors for Coronavirus have released a statement related to reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools if and when states reopen schools. They recommend:

  • Students, teachers and families should maintain physical distancing (social distancing). 1.5 metres between people is recommended (2 adult arms lengths)
  • Students and teachers must not go to school in case of any sickness
  • Students must inform their teacher if they are feeling sick
  • Schools consider a number of additional measures to reduce risks:
    • Adapting activities to minimise mixing between students and classes
    • Avoiding close proximity in queues, assemblies
    • Doing lessons outdoors where possible and safe
    • Running smaller class sizes
    • Closing high-touch play equipment and shared water fountains
    • Submitting and reviewing work by distance where possible
    • Protect the most vulnerable students and staff
      • Recommend high risk students are carefully reviewed by their doctor
      • Enable high risk staff to work from home
    • Reinforcing the importance of personal hygiene
    • In case of a student with Covid-19 symptoms, they should be isolated, their parents called and signs and symptoms discussed with the National Coronavirus Hotline (1800 020 080)
  • Schools should consider their environmental cleaning protocols:
    • In case of coughing or sneezing in class, the relevant surfaces should be cleaned immediately with disinfectant
    • High touch surfaces should be disinfected frequently throughout the day
    • Maximise the amount of available fresh air in classrooms
    • Make sure there are enough bins for waste tissue disposal and soap and running water for students to maintain their personal hygiene
  • Protect student wellbeing and welfare during this time:
    • Provide regular reassurance but honest and clear information about this virus
    • Reassure them that being worried is normal and make time to talk to them, hear them, tune in to them and validate their concerns
    • Check in on Head to Health on how to have Coronavirus conversations o Protect their eSafety.gov.au during this time where they will be increasingly using devices
    • Continue to monitor the home environment for signs of and protect students against domestic violence.The Commonwealth government provides resources to support work in this area

If you or your child has asthma we understand your concern about the risk of transmission and the worry you might feel about your child getting sick. We can reinforce here that neither children, nor people with asthma seem to be particularly at risk during this time. But we reinforce the recommendations we’ve made previously:

  • Optimise your child’s asthma control
  • Ensure you have an updated asthma action plan
  • Follow the public health advice carefully.

Travellers

All people returning to the country will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. You may also be screened at the airport if you are unwell. Such screening may occur at the port you intend to board the plane or ship. You may be prevented from boarding the plane or ship in case of symptoms. If you become unwell during the flight, the airline staff will implement a range of strict procedures aiming to avoid the potential spread of your illness to other passengers and staff.

International travel advice provided by the Australian Department of Health can be found here.

Advice for local travellers and use of public transport

The most recent advice from the Australian Government remains to avoid all non-essential travel. However, several states are going to start relaxing travel bans in the coming weeks.

Each state and territory status update can be found here:

We reinforce the Australian Department of Health recommendations to avoid all non-essential travel on all forms of public transport including trains, buses, trams and passenger ferries. When using taxis, people with asthma should sit in the back where possible. Where possible on other forms of public transport, we recommend all people, especially people with asthma, to try to find seats 1.5 metres away from other passengers.

We recommend that before and after public transport, taxi and ride share use people, especially those with asthma, wash hands thoroughly, see instructions here.

Asthma Australia also supports the Department’s recommendations to employers to enable working from home arrangements so staff can avoid use of public transport where possible.

Information Sources, and further information

Australian Government Department of Health