The response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to evolve globally and residential aged care facilities in Australia are being impacted directly.
In addition to the existing legal and regulatory obligations of approved providers, further restrictions and directives for aged care facilities were announced by the Prime Minister today.
A human biosecurity emergency
On advice of the National Security Committee, a ‘human biosecurity emergency’ was formally declared under the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Declaration 2020 (Cth) pursuant to the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) (Biosecurity Act).
Under the Biosecurity Act, the declaration gives the Minister of Health significant powers towards preventing or controlling the spread of the virus, including imposing express directives that:
- apply to persons, goods or conveyances when entering or leaving specified places; and
- restrict or prevent the movement of persons, goods or conveyances in or between specified places.
Directives for aged care facilities
Relying on these powers, the Prime Minister announced the following express directives for aged care facilities:
- the following individual visitors or staff (including visiting staff) will not be permitted or admitted to enter an aged care facility:
- those who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days;
- those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days;
- those who have a fever, or symptoms, or acute respiratory infection symptoms,
- from 1 May you must have had your influenza vaccination to visit an aged care facility,
- in relation to visits by visitors, including immediate social supports, such as family and close friends, professional service or advocacy workers:
- limiting visits to a short duration;
- limiting visits to a maximum of two visitors at one time per day;
- visits must be conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or a specific area designated by the facility rather than a communal area where the risk of transmission to other residents is greater;
- no large group visits or gatherings, including social activity or entertainment;
- no school groups of any size;
- visitors should be encouraged to practice social distancing where possible, including maintaining the distance of 1.5 meters;
- children aged 16 years or less should be visiting by exception, as children may be asymptomatic and may not follow recommended hygiene procedures as closely as adults;
- in cases of end of life, aged care facilities will have discretion to impose very strict arrangements to visit residents under those circumstances, which will be undertaken on a facility-by-facility basis, provided they continue to follow the other directives listed above.
In addition to potential non-compliance of other legal and regulatory obligations, breaches of the directives under the Biosecurity Act may attract serious civil or criminal penalties.
Approved providers of aged care are therefore required to take active measures to ensure strict compliance with these directives within their operational systems and processes.
Of course, this is the government response and many providers have already implemented procedures which exceed the government requirements.
Treat directives as ongoing until emergency is lifted
Approved providers should treat the directives as continuous until further notice from the Minister of Health.
Under the Biosecurity Act, a ‘human biosecurity emergency’ must not be longer than 3 months, however the legislation does permit the Governor-General to extend the emergency period more than once.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article and/or would like us to provide advice, please contact a member of Thomson Geer’s Health, Aged Care and Retirement Villages