Australia’s peak decision-making committee for public health emergency management and disease control is recommending visitors to aged care facilities be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but is not requiring it under new guidelines to open up aged care homes nationally.
The set of principles developed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee are based on all jurisdictions revising their public health orders to open up residential aged care homes to let visitors in and allow residents out to enjoy activities.
The principles, which were agreed to by National Cabinet on Friday, do not require visitors to aged care facilities be vaccinated against COVID-19 but this may be considered in the future, the AHPPC said in a statement.
Under the principles, decisions to restrict visitors must be proportionate and take into account impacts of social isolation on resident health and wellbeing but should be limited when the facility is experiencing an outbreak.
Providers should use COVID-safe precautions, such as visitor check in, social distancing and personal protective equipment. Providers should also consider offering infection prevention and control advice and training to regular visitors.
The principles come as almost all reported residential aged care staff have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (99.4 per cent). Just over 80 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated as of 4 October (84 per cent), according to the Department of Health.
The guidelines also follow the release of New South Wales’ roadmap out of lockdown, which allows aged care homes to open doors to fully vaccinated people from next Monday.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said providers had a responsibility to support the wellbeing of residents.
“We encourage states and territories to implement these principles through their public health orders, following a similar easing of visitor restrictions in New South Wales,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.
Provider peak body Aged and Community Services Australia, which has been calling for the government to release a national roadmap for safely opening facilities to visitors, said the AHPPC’s principles were a step in the right direction.
But ACSA CEO Paul Sadler said certainty over responsibilities and costs were needed.
“We need the government to take responsibility with total clarity and direction so that older Australians, visitors and providers are protected both physically and emotionally as we start to open up and ease restrictions.
“And providers need certainty about how the costs of long-term protection mechanisms are to be managed,” Mr Sadler told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“At a minimum we need further rules around visitation when community transmission is high and support for the use of rapid testing,” Mr Sadler said.
He said ACSA was working with the sector to update the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes.