Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised residential aged care operators to ensure they are taking precautions to prevent and control infections and prepare for health emergencies as the coronavirus situation worsens.

In a letter to providers on 26 February, Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said COVID-19, formerly known as novel coronavirus, presented challenges to the residential aged care sector.

He said with the COVID-19 situation evolving and the 2020 influenza season approaching, the Commonwealth, aged care and health sectors and public health authorities needed to collaborate on planning and preparedness activities.

Professor Brendan Murphy

Professor Murphy said aged care residents are particularly vulnerable to serious illness if infected and aged care homes often have frequent visitors and close physical contact between staff, residents and visitors.

“I would like to reiterate the importance of infection control and being prepared for health emergencies,” he said.

Aged care homes are expected to assess the risk of, and take steps to prevent, detect and control, the spread of infections, Professor Murphy said.

“Infection management practices, such as isolating infectious individuals and applying standard precautions to prevent transmission, minimise the risk of infection spreading.”

Aged care homes are required to implement effective best-practice infection prevention and control programs as set out in the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare.

Preparing for emergencies

Aged care homes are also advised to ensure established protocols to manage health emergencies including service-wide infection outbreaks or broader community epidemics.

“While the number of cases of COVID-19 is currently small in Australia, it is possible that this situation could change and services need to plan and be prepared for this,” Professor Murphy said.

He said an aged care home emergency plan would consider factors such as:

  • first steps if infection is suspected or identified, for example, seeking medical assessment, diagnosis and contact with local public health officials
  • arrangements to ensure adequate care of the infected individual, for example, staffing, isolation or quarantine within the facility, medical care, further liaison with public health officials
  • protection measures for other residents, visitors and staff
  • notification advice to families, carers and relevant authorities.

In regards to the 2020 influenza season, Professor Murphy said the evolving COVID-19 outbreak meant that vaccination for all aged care residents, staff, and volunteers to protect staff and residents from influenza was particularly important.

Access the letter here.

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