The Prime Minister has warned aged-care facilities that are imposing visitor rules beyond the national coronavirus advice to stop, saying the Commonwealth will step in if they do not.
Speaking after a meeting of national cabinet on Friday, Scott Morrison said despite his “strong reminder” to facilities earlier this week that the advice is residents can have two visitors a day, some facilities are still barring families from seeing their loved ones.
“I am flagging very clearly at a federal level, that should we not see an improvement in this area, under the voluntary arrangements that we currently have in place, that the Commonwealth would be moving to require aged care facilities that wish to have an exemption to those national principles … they would need to seek authority to do that from the Commonwealth,” he said.
“It’s not my inclination to explore that sort of regulatory approach, but if it’s necessary then we’ll do it.”
Mr Morrison acknowledged there would be situations when bans on visitors were necessary for the safety of residents and staff, but that in all other circumstances facilities must follow the national advice.
“There are quite valid reasons why you would have exemptions, particularly as we’ve seen in north-west Tasmania at the moment, or what we’ve seen in western Sydney or in other places,” he said.
“That is entirely sensible as to why you would have restrictions that are greater than the national baseline in those circumstances. Totally reasonable.
“But more broadly, having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that’s not okay.”
When asked why facilities were not co-operating with the Government’s advice, the Prime Minister said that was something to “work through with the sector”.
“If there is a factor here, we’d be keen to understand what it is.
“But the very clear medical advice we have is that these visits are quite safe when they’re done in the right circumstances.”
Mr Morrison said while he understood there were safety concerns, it was important to the mental health and wellbeing of residents that they be allowed in-person visits.
“It’s very important for the health of the residents that they maintain contact with their loved ones and other support people,” he said.
“This is very good for them and so that’s why that’s necessary.”
The original advice from national cabinet for aged-care providers was that residents could have two visits a day from close relatives and support people.
The visits must be in residents’ rooms but there was no advice barring residents from spending time in other parts of the facilities, such as common rooms.
When the Prime Minister and chief health officer first addressed the issue on Tuesday, the Council on the Ageing welcomed the comments, while the peak body for non-profit aged care providers said the current restrictions were causing confusion and distress.
Three phases to the virus
As well as noting the progress to suppress the spread of COVID-19, Mr Morrison also briefly outlined the three “phases” of the virus determined by the Government in its modelling: the export, repatriation and community phases.
“The first phase is … when the virus was first exported, transmitted out of China and into many countries around the world,” Mr Morrison said.
The repatriation phase saw Australians abroad who were infected bringing the virus back with them as they travelled home.
“We saw many, many internationally acquired cases, more than two-thirds at certain times, of the total number of cases in Australia,” the Prime Minister said.
He said Australia was in the third phase, where the virus “actually moves from within our own community”.
National cabinet will meet again on May 1 and federal parliament will resume on May 12.