COVID-19: What you need to know

The APA is working hard to keep these FAQs current and reflective of the rapidly evolving advice.

If you reside in an area currently in Stage 3 or Stage 4 Restrictions, please see the following page for tailored information.

If you do come across FAQs that require attention please email Advocacy Team

For the latest information, you can also follow up on Facebook @AustralianPhysiotherapyAssociation.

The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic requiring a global coordinated effort.

There is currently no vaccine available for this new virus and symptoms can include fever, flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue and/or shortness of breath.

The World Health Organisation’s advice to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection include:

  • frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • when coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissues away immediately and wash your hands
  • avoid close contact with anyone that has fever and cough.

The information on this page contains specific advice to support APA members and their patients. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide our members with relevant up-to-date information as it becomes available. We urge our members to be vigilant for signs of the virus.

For the latest information about the Coronavirus, visit the Department of Health website as well as the Coronavirus Facebook page. Also, visit APA advocacy during COVID-19 for detailed information about our work.

This page was last updated on 7 July 2020

Steps to take immediately:

  • discuss a plan of action with your staff/colleagues
  • ensure that all clinical and non-clinical staff have a good understanding of infection control principles
  • know the signs of the coronavirus and be vigilant
  • place information posters in your clinic or workplace
  • consider advising patients to reconsider/delay treatment if they have flu like symptoms or have travelled to internationally known hot spots in recent weeks
  • use preventative measures to limit the spread of virus.

Restrictions in states and territories

With the decline in cases, each state and territory are beginning to ease restrictions at a variable rate. For the latest information regarding the restrictions in your state, please see the links below:

COVID-19 response update for Allied Health Practitioners Webinars

These webinars, hosted by Principal Medical Advisor, Professor Michael Kidd AM, is specifically for Allied Health practitioners from the Department of Health. View the recordings of the webinars here

NSW Health also provided an update to Allied Health Practitioners on Thursday 7 May 2020. The slides from this update can be found here

In your workplace

Staff

It is imperative that all clinical and non-clinical staff have a good understanding of infection control principles. Ensure that you also take note of important Work (Occupational) Health and Safety (WHS) considerations during this time.

Within practices, there is a WHS obligation to do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of anyone who enters the workplace (this includes workers, patients, carers etc.). This includes limiting the spread of illness (including coronavirus) wherever reasonably possible.

If you or your staff have travelled or have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, special restrictions apply, including isolation.

To help limit the spread of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself in the following circumstances:

  • if you have travelled overseas you must isolate for 14 days
  • if you have been in close contact with a proven case of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of the last contact with the confirmed case.

For more information refer to the Department of Health Information Sheet.

Other preventative measures to limit the spread of the virus include*:

  • washing your hands often with soap and water before and after eating as well as after attending the toilet;
  • when cleaning, wear gloves and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after wearing gloves
  • if unwell, avoiding contact with others (including touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact); and;
  • coughing or sneezing into your elbow

*Information for health and residential care workers provided by the Department of Health.

You may also consider disinfecting items such as communal computers/phones, reception desks, waiting areas etc.

It is important to remember that you cannot act in a discriminatory manner towards your patients or staff members and that any action taken must be considered reasonable to fulfil your WHS obligations.

As in normal circumstances, if any of your employees are noticeably unwell (i.e. not fit for work) they should remain at home until they are fit to return to work (with medical clearance).

Practice owners

The APA appreciates this is a concerning time for many private practices and their patients. We encourage you to maintain vigilance with practice hygiene and infection prevention measures and consider advising patients to delay treatment if they have flu like symptoms or have travelled to internationally known hot spots in recent weeks.

We strongly recommend that you take some time to consider business continuity measures for your practice should the situation escalate. Information and assistance on business continuity planning can be found here.

We have been in contact with our insurer, BMS. Their previous advice in relation to Business Interruption cover was that until the disease was defined as ‘quarantinable’, the policy would respond to provide cover. This relied on the definition of Quarantinable Disease within the 1908 Quarantine Act. The 1908 Quarantine Act was replaced by the 2015 Biosecurity Act which has no definition for Quarantinable Disease.

Given the COVID-19 situation is constantly changing, we have now received further advice from BMS that they have amended their position, and their policy wording will be updated to reflect this.

There is no coverage under the BMS Business Insurance Policy for any loss resulting from COVID-19 . The definition of Quarantinable Disease is considered to be superseded by Listed Human Diseases which are subject to quarantine-like actions by the government and as such is deemed to be quarantinable by all reasonable interpretations.

The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent effects on our community are unprecedented, and BMS will continue to support members as much as possible during this time. Members should seek further advice about their business interruption or any other insurance matters by contacting BMS directly at apa@bmsgroup.com or 1800 931 068.

If your insurance policy is with another provider you should check directly with them for advice specific to your situation.

For practices that work with the aged care sector, the Federal Health Department has provided this letter containing further information and fact sheets.

Residential aged care

The risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 is greatest in those who are older or have chronic health conditions. As such those who work in aged care need to be particularly vigilant in reducing the spread of the virus.

Ensuring you engage with social distancing and good hygiene practices are the most effective ways of controlling the spread of COVID-19. This includes:

  • covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • disposing of used tissues immediately into a rubbish bin and washing your hands
  • washing your hands often and being aware of the 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitisers (60% alcohol), where available
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched
  • stay 1.5 metres away — 2 arms’ length — from other people, this is an example of social distancing
  • avoid non-essential travel.

Department of Health advice on how to control the spread of COVID-19 here. You should also be familiar with the requirements of the state or territory which you practice.

When you can and can’t work

Like others, health and aged care workers need to self-isolate for 14 days after:

  • returning from overseas
  • being in close contact with someone who has been confirmed as having COVID-19.

Health care workers can still go to work if you have:

  • had causal contact with COVID-19 cases and are well
  • directly card for confirmed cases while using PPE properly

Monitor yourself for symptoms and self isolate if you become unwell.

For aged care workers the following rules also apply:

  • from 1 May, you must have your influenza vaccination to work in or visit an aged care facility
  • if you’re a residential aged care worker, you must not go to work if you have a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness.

The government has guidance for those working in the health and aged care sectors available here.

Residential aged care facilities

Additional safeguards have been developed to protect those living in residential aged care facilities. In the following circumstances entering an aged care facility will be unable to occur:

  • Visitors who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days
  • Visitors who have been in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Visitors with a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness
  • Children 16 years and under, except in special circumstances

From 1 May 2020, you will be unable to enter an aged care facility unless you have received an influenza vaccination.

The following advice has been given for those who visit aged care facilities:

  • Visits should be short and conducted in the resident’s room, outside, or in a specifically designated area (not a communal space)

When visiting ensure you:

  • Wash your hands before entering and leaving a resident’s room
  • Stay 1.5 meters away from residents where possible
  • Stay away when unwell
  • Each resident may have no more than 2 visitors at a time, including doctors
  • If you don’t absolutely have to go to support a resident in care, please don’t.

Please be aware some residential aged facilities are not permitting visitors, except in special circumstances of care and compassion – such as for those in palliative care and for those nearing end-of-life.

Further information around aged care facilities can be found here.

Home visits

Consideration needs to be given to the risks associated with providing physiotherapy, particularly when working with an at risk population, which is the case with home visits. We recommend reviewing current practices to identify ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Things to consider to decrease the risk of transmission include:

  • reviewing the frequency and duration of appointments
  • reviewing current infection control procedures such as hand hygiene and cleaning of equipment
  • considering how you can maintain social distancing
  • if unable to maintain social distancing are you able to shorten the time you spend in close proximity or position yourself in a safer position, eg not face to face
  • including additional screening to check for COVID-19 risks.

The government has developed a guide for home care providers, this can be found here.

Support for the aged care workforce

The Australian Government is relaxing international student visa work conditions for:

  • Aged care facilities
  • Home care providers

This will allow international student nurses and other aged care workers to work more than 40 hours a fortnight.

Personal Protective Equipment?

Requests can be made by aged care services and any workers providing support to people receiving aged care support living in the community.

How to access PPE

Aged care providers requiring PPE can do so by emailing COVIDPPE a – please don’t approach Primary Health Networks.

The following information must be provided in your email requests:

  • the facility, program or service requiring PPE
  • if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 at your facility, program or service
  • types and quantities of PPE required – please note, only masks are available at this stage and other PPE will be provided when available
  • details of other suppliers you have attempted to source PPE stock from.

If your facility, program or service is experiencing an outbreak of influenza, the above process applies.

Processing of requests

All requests will be triaged by the Department of Health with priority given to facilities, programs and workers where there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The Department of Health will triage your request to determine priority and may be in contact with you for further information.

Once approved the request for supplies will be shared with the National Incident Room who will work with your State or Territory Government to distribute the supplies.

It is important to remember if you do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 within your facility, program or service you should expect delays in receiving your PPE due to the increase in demand.

Emails previously sent to the National Stockpile address do not need to be resent as they have been captured in this new, dedicated aged care process.

Resources

An online PPE course is available for those who work in the aged care sector. The training covers in detail the use of PPE for those in aged care with standard precautions and transmission precautions and how to apply and remove PPE in the correct order. Details of the course are available here

A range of webinars, including specific to allied health, and resources, including training and fact sheets, are also available from the government.

A further list of resources are available through the APA website.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health

COVID-19 has the potential to have a greater effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is due to a number of factors including the increased movement of visitors through some communities, a higher prevalence of chronic disease and reduced access to healthcare services.

As such vigilance needs to be taken when visiting or working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 include:

  • Maintaining good hand hygiene by washing your hands often with soap and water
  • Coughing and sneezing into your elbow or a tissue
  • Disposing of used tissues immediately into a rubbish bin and washing your hands
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces often
  • Maintaining social distancing by keeping 1.5 meters away from other people

Restrictions to remote communities

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our remote communities travel restrictions have been put in place. The areas where restrictions apply were developed by state and territory governments in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Under these restrictions, those who are wishing to enter designated areas will need to self isolate for 14 days prior to entry. Provided they are symptom-free and meet health requirements essential service personnel are exempt from these restrictions.

Further information on travel restrictions as well as other support measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be found here.

Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19, Chaired by the Department of Health and NACCHO, have developed a Management Plan to support those working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The management plan adopts responses already underway and provides specific operational advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as how the health sector can respond in a culturally safe way.

Up to date targeted information can be found on the Department of Health website.

Further information, including resources, have been developed by NACCHO and Health InfoNet.

More information

For more information on the Coronavirus, you can contact:

  • Coronavirus Health Information Line, Department of Health on 1800 020 080 (operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week)
  • the Public Health Information Line on 1800 004 599