COVID-19: Advice for carers

COVID-19: Advice for carers

Posted March 18, 2020

UPDATED: 31/03/2020

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. This means that the virus has spread all over the world, including Australia. Carers are in a particularly vulnerable situation as they and the people they care for are generally more susceptible to infection and the logistics of day to day life are already hard. In recognition of this, as part of its recent stimulus package, from 31 March 2020 carers who are receiving the Carer Payment will receive a one- off payment of $750, as will those receiving the Disability Support Pension and the Age Pension.

Quick Links

Where do I get official information?

The Australian Government’s Department of Health is the official website for the federal response.

The Australian Government has also launched an official app: Coronavirus Australia which is available through Apple or Google Apps for Android Phones:

 

State and Territory Governments also have their own dedicated local resources:

If you are worried you may have come into contact with COVID-19 please call the Corona Virus Hotline on 1800 020 080 which is open 24 hours 7 days a week.

 

Keeping yourself and the person you care for well

  • cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • dispose of tissues properly
  • wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet.
  • wash your hands for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice)
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
  • if you are sick, avoiding contact with others and stay more than 1.5 metres away from people
  • clean and sanitise frequently used objects such as mobiles, keys and wallets

Arrange a review treatment plan with your GP or specialist – if you feel unsafe or unsure about sitting in the doctor's surgery, ask if you can have a phone appointment. The Australian Government has announced that telehealth consultations for people who are:

  • isolating at home
  • aged over 70
  • identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and are aged over 50
  • have chronic health conditions or who are immune-compromised
  • are pregnant or are parents with new babies

will be bulk billed if your doctor is willing to engage through telehealth and accepts bulk billing. This means you can continue treatment from doctors, nurses and mental health practitioners from home.


Make an emergency plan

The Carer Gateway has an Emergency Care Plan Document that can help ensure that the person you care for is looked after if you are unable to care.

The Emergency Plan includes

  • Name and contact details for you and person you care for
  • Next of kin information for you and the person you care for
  • Name and contact details of a back-up carer
  • Name and details of GP, specialists and allied health professionals (pharmacy, physio, care team, dentist)
  • List of medical conditions, including allergies and implants (such as cochlear implants or pacemakers)
  • List of medications and information on where they are stored
  • List any communication or mobility issues (e.g. deaf, non-verbal, frail, assistive technology and equipment)
  • List of daily care plan (e.g. medication times, showering, feeding, toileting, activities such as favourite TV show or game)
  • Important info about home of person – e.g. where house keys are, heating, pets, fuse box, location of medication.

If you and the person you care for have a My Health Record make sure it is up-to-date, including the addition of any Advance Care Plan and Power of Attorney.

 

Visiting a loved one in residential aged care

The outbreak of any virus in an aged care home can cause significant problems.

COVID-19 is a particular health risk for older people. The Australian Government has applied new restrictions to protect them.

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 you must have had your influenza vaccination to visit an aged care facility. Aged care homes are also requesting that people over the age of 65 have their pneumococcal vaccination

Aged care facilities homes are making sure visits are kept short

  • allowing no more than two visitors, including doctors, at a time
  • making sure visits occur in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area they designate - there should be no visiting in communal areas
  • ensuring there are no large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment

No school groups of any size are allowed to visit residential aged care facilities.

No children aged under 16 years 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.

Some aged care homes have taken further steps and are banning visitors altogether but have committed to providing video-conferencing opportunities. You should contact residential facilities to establish what conditions they have put in place for visitors before you visit.

 

NDIS Information

The number of face-to-face meetings with NDIS participants is being reduced in line with the Australian Government’s advice in the coronavirus (COVID-19) national health response plan. However, face-to-face services are still available. If the Department of Health and Ageing advice is to stop face-to-face meetings we will let you know. The Agency is able to deliver both scheduled plan reviews and first plan meetings in other ways like phone, video or email.

Participants, families and carers can request alternatives to face-to-face meetings, if participants are concerned about their exposure to respiratory illness.

Both scheduled plan reviews and first plan meetings can be completed over the phone, if the participant:

  • would prefer not to have a face-to-face meeting
  • has recently returned from overseas, or
  • has come in contact with someone affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Local Area Coordinators and Early Childhood Partners may be changing their office operations due to coronavirus (COVID-19) management plans. Find a list of affected offices here.

If you have questions or require advice, please contact the NDIS Contact Centre on 1800 800 110.


Social Security Announcements

Carers Australia understands the problems many carers are experiencing during this pandemic, including with their income, financial support and looking after the person they care for. We acknowledge that Commonwealth and state and territory governments have developed new supports for many Australians in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Income Support Payments

The Government is providing two lump sum payments of $750 to a number of social security payment recipients.

  • The first payment which will go through on 31 March is available to recipients of any income support payment, including pensions and allowances, or who have a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card or Veteran Gold Card.  It will include payments to people on the Carer Payment and Carer Allowance as well as the Disability Support Pension and the Aged Pension
  • The second payment is due on 13 July.  This payment will also be available to carers on the Carer Payment and Carer Allowance except for those people on the Carer Allowance who are on a range of other payments which will now attract a fortnightly supplement of $550 known as the Coronavirus Supplement. This will include carers who are on the Jobseeker Payment (Newstart), the Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance for jobseekers, Youth Allowance for student, Austudy, ABSTUDY, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.  All these payments will attract the Coronavirus Supplement for a period of six months.

We are aware that many carers on the Carer Payment are considering applying for one of the other payments they are likely to be eligible for which attract supplement.  We would urge caution in doing this.  Many of these payments do not attract the same allowances attached to the Carer Payment.  Going back onto the Carer Payment after the supplement expires may prove complex and time consuming.  You should also be aware that people on a Disability Support Pension (DSP) who switch to another payment may be particularly at risk of not meeting the eligibility requirements at a later date.  The eligibility requirements for the Disability Support Pension have changed in recent years and those who have been on the DSP for some time may find that they are no longer eligible.

  • Carers on the Carer Payment and/or Carer Allowance will continue to receive their annual Carer Supplement in July.
  • You should also be aware that a one-off Crisis Payment, which is equal to one week’s JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance for jobseekers, is available for current recipients who are isolated at home due to COVID-19 and are in severe hardship.

Jobseeker Mutual Obligation Requirements:

Mutual Obligation Requirements are all the job seeking activities someone is required to perform in order to keep receiving the Jobseeker Payment (Newstart), Youth Allowance (other), Parenting Payment Single (when their youngest child turns six) and Special Benefit (Nominated Visa Holders).  They can be quite onerous.

The Government has suspended mutual obligation requirements for the Jobseeker Payment, Youth Allowance as a job seeker and Parenting Payment until 31 March 2020, after which they will consider an extension of these exemptions. It has also removed the liquid assets waiting period from 25 March 2020 due to coronavirus.

For more information on what you can do to get a personal exemption from meeting the mutual obligation requirements beyond the general exemption, if you or the person you are caring for are impacted by the various social isolation requirements, click here.

Why aren’t carers eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement?

Carers Australia has been receiving many representations from carers on the Carer Payment who are concerned that the fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement has not been extended to carers receiving the Carer Payment or to recipients of Disability Support Pension and Age Pension.

Carers Australia is advocating for the Government to extend the Coronavirus Supplement to those on the Carer Payment

 

Other forms of government assistance

Superannuation

The Australian Government is allowing individuals affected by the coronavirus to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. Individuals will not need to pay tax on amounts released and the money they withdraw will not affect Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payments.

The Government is temporarily reducing superannuation minimum drawdown requirements for account-based pensions and similar products by 50 per cent for 2019-20 and 2020-21. This measure will benefit retirees holding these products by reducing the need to sell investment assets to fund minimum drawdown requirements.

Carers Australia recommends that you speak to your Superannuation Fund or a financial advisor if you need further information regarding the impact of these drawdowns on your superannuation.

For more information on the Stimulus Package click here.

Jobkeeper wage subsidies

On 30 March the Government announced a six-month job subsidy scheme. It is available to businesses with less than a billion dollars turnover whose turnover will be reduced by more than 30 per cent relative to a comparable period a year ago (of at least a month), and to businesses with more than a billion dollars turnover whose turnover has reduced by 50 per cent or more over the same period. 

It is intended to reduce job shedding by businesses now under threat by ensuring that each eligible employee receives at least $1,500 per fortnight (before tax).  Eligible employees include full-time, part time and casual workers who were in employment at 1 March 2020.

Employers receiving the Jobkeeper Payment must notify all eligible employees.

For further information and details of eligibility click here.

The Australian Energy Regular has instructed that all energy companies and networks must:

  • offer all households who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement;
  • not disconnect customers who may be in financial stress, without their agreement before 31 July 2020; and
  • Defer referral of any customer to a debt collection agency for recovery actions, or credit default listing until at least 31 July 2020.
 

Asking for help and keeping connected

It’s always good to ask for help if you need it. Talk to neighbours, family and friends about help with groceries or just simply ask them to keep in touch via the phone or email. Chat services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger can also help you feel more connected. If you are unfamiliar with these Apps or computers or texting, the eSafety Commissioner has easy to use tutorials.

 

Carers’ Wellbeing

If you aren’t familiar with the Carer Gateway, there are specific resources to help you with stress and anxiety. Carers can join chat forums on the Carers Australia website or the Young Carers Network website. If you need someone to talk to you can ring the Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737; they can refer you to carer specific supports. Alternatively, if your mental health is suffering, you can ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800. Young adults between the ages of 12-25 can visit Headspace for youth targeted mental health resources.

Limit screen time – it’s easy to feel worried and that you have to stay connected to the news for updates, but social media and the internet are not reliable and can give you the wrong information. The best source of information is from the Australian Government and your state or territory government, as well as reputable media sources such as the ABC or SBS. A good place for primary school children to learn about Coronavirus in a safe, age appropriate space is Behind The News.

 

Accessing Groceries

Coles has  dedicated shopping times for vulnerable members of our communities, this includes carers who have a state or territory issued Companion Card, and have basic essentials stored behind the front counter for purchase.

Coles has advised shoppers that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Coles Community Hours will be for elderly customers and others in need of assistance who simply need to present a government-issued identification card including:

  • Pensioner Concession Card
  • Companion Card
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Health Care Card
  • Seniors Card
  • Disability Card

Store managers will use sensible discretion and compassion to ensure vulnerable customers who require access are able to complete their shopping during Community Hour.

Please see the Coles media release.

Coles has announced a dedicate online service for those vulnerable customers who have the approved identification listed above:

'Coles Online Priority Service (COPS) will be launching soon for customers who are unable to easily access a Coles Supermarket. This service will allow these customers to purchase their essential items online and have them delivered to their home.'

Please click here for more information on how to register. 

Woolworths has a dedicated community hour for people with a disability, their carers and seniors on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Please see the their media release here.

They have also reduced trading hours at 41 stores to 11am - 6pm, so that they can be used as Priority Home Delivery Hubs, enabling staff to pick online orders for Priority Assictance deliveries to the elderly, people with a disability, those with compromised immune systems or people in isolation. You can apply to receive Priority Assistance by completing the form here.

Click here to check store opening hours.

Woolworths has also partnered with Meals on Wheels in NSW to deliver toilet paper.

It’s also a good idea to contact your local smaller supermarket, butcher, fruit and vegetable store and chemist to see if they will home deliver. Many local businesses are offering delivery during the pandemic. Some local restaurants and cafes are offering take home meals and take away coffees and are providing their customers with the methods they are using to keep staff and customers safe.

The Queensland Government has also advised that it will temporarily halt closing time restrictions so supermarkets and chemists can stay open longer.

 

Social Distancing

The Australian Government continues to update its social distancing measures. Australian’s are now required to have four square metres of distance between themselves and other members of the community in public spaces.

Gatherings, excluding the people you live with, can be no more than two people. This does not include people you live with.

It is strongly recommended that people over 70, those over 60 with a chronic illness and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders observe social isolation as far as possible. This does not mean that you can’t go for a walk or that you dispense of the services of a needed care worker. But ensure that you and your care worker observe the hygiene and, as far as possible, the personal distance recommendation identified under the heading “Keeping yourself and, the person you care for well” above.

Essential Gatherings:

  • Shopping for essential groceries and returning home without delay
  • attending medical or compassionate visits
  • attending the pharmacy
  • going out for person exercise on your own or with one other person while maintaining social distancing
  • going to work or education if you are unable to do so from home.

Australia Post has also advised it has launched a free pharmacy delivery service.

Australians are asked to reduce their visits to the shops, in order to reduce contact.

From midnight on Wednesday 25 March 2020, these activities and businesses will no longer be allowed to continue:

  • Amusement parks and arcades
  • Indoor and outdoor play centres
  • Community and recreation centres, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin facilities, saunas, wellness centres
  • Public swimming pools
  • Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres
  • Auction houses
  • Real estate auctions and open house inspections
  • In-store beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours, spa and massage parlours (excluding allied-health-related services, like physiotherapy)
  • Food courts within shopping centres will only be able to sell takeaway. Shopping centres themselves will remain open
  • Personal training is limited to a maximum of 2 people
  • Weddings can continue, but only with the couple, the celebrant, and witnesses totalling a maximum of five people
  • Funerals are limited to a maximum of 10 people
  • Outdoor and indoor food markets will be addressed by individual states and territories

For more information click here.

 

Scams

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has advised through the Scam Watch website that there are dozens of reports of scam activity relating to COVID-19. “We’ve had a wide variety of scams reported to us, including fake online stores selling products claiming to be a vaccine or cure for coronavirus, and stores selling products such as face masks and not providing the goods.”

There is no known vaccine or cure for coronavirus and a vaccine isn’t expected to be available for 18 months. Do not buy any products that claim to prevent or cure you of COVID-19.

Scammers are impersonating official organisations such as the World Health Organization and the Department of Health or legitimate businesses such as travel agents and telecommunications companies.

If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. You should also contact Scamwatch through their website www.scamwatch.gov.au.

More information on coronavirus scams is available on the Scamwatch website including information on where to get help.

 

This document will be regularly updated .

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