Aged care residents will have greater access to visitors and reduced lockdowns under new guidelines as pandemic restrictions loosen.
The federal government says every resident should have access to one essential visitor at all times, including during any COVID-19 outbreaks or exposures.
“We need to shift the balance from restricting visitors during an outbreak to providing access by at least one visitor per resident per day. This will … provide families with more valuable time with their loved ones,” Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck said on Saturday.
“Every effort is made to protect residents and with these processes in the place, this provides the opportunity to safely increase visitation for residents.
Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt is nudging the states to implement the expanded visitation instructions.
“This decision will provide consistent guidance for states and territories, and we encourage them to reflect this in their public health orders,” he said.
It will also allow staff to continue working if they have been exposed to the virus but test negative, are asymptomatic and are willing to work.
Approved by experts
The new guidelines, which were “developed based on expert medical advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)”, will be supported through the provision of more rapid antigen tests and personal protective equipment.
More than 12.2 million RATs had been deployed to the aged care sector since August 2021, the ministers said.
The federal government also says more than 19 million masks and nearly eight million gowns have been provided to aged care facilities nationwide since the start of the year.
The guidelines come with the recognition of the “serious impact of social isolation on residents” due to strict requirements over the past two years of the pandemic.
But that has not stopped the opposition from criticising the government’s response in managing the outbreak among elderly residents in nursing homes.
Labor recently savaged the federal government’s move to set up a task force scrutinising more than 560 COVID-19 deaths in aged care since the start of the Omicron wave.
0.1 per cent national death rate
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly lauded Australia’s “spectacularly low rate of death” from the virus while announcing the task force because of the disproportionate rate of aged care fatalities.
People aged over 70 accounted for 84 per cent of 1103 deaths between December 15 and the end of January, while those aged 90-plus made up 24 per cent.
But Professor Kelly stressed the overall national death rate from Omicron was 0.1 per cent.
The government said there were 8972 positive cases of residents and staff in its most recent weekly snapshot of the pandemic’s impact in residential aged care facilities nationally published on Friday.