Date published: 
15 February 2022
Type: 
Subscriber announcement
Intended audience: 
Health sector

Thank you for continuing to stay up to date with the latest information.

Please share this newsletter with your colleagues and workforce, particularly your communications teams and encourage them to subscribe for future updates. You can view past editions of the Protecting Older Australians Newsletter as well as other announcements for the aged care sector on the department's website.

Anyone living in an aged care facility, their family or representative who needs support should contact the Older Person’s Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600.

In this edition:

Interim Guidance on managing public health restrictions on residential aged care facilities

Interim guidance has been endorsed by the National Cabinet, providing principles to support safe decision making on the application of public health restrictions on residential aged care facilities (RACF) managing a COVID‑19 exposure or outbreak.

Boosters to be mandatory for all residential aged care workers across Australia This interim guidance clearly states the Government’s support for increased visitor access in RACFs, including during an outbreak, to ensure the care needs and social needs of residents are met. As endorsed by AHPPC, each resident should have access to one Essential Visitor at all times (including during an outbreak or exposure). This includes partners in care, named visitors and dedicated volunteers.

The expectation is that visitors use appropriate PPE and undertake basic infection prevention and control training and that facilities will support this training.

Interim Guidance on permissions and restrictions for workers in aged care

Interim guidance has been endorsed by the National Cabinet, providing principles to support safe decision making on the application of public health restrictions on residential aged care facilities (RACF) managing a COVID-19 exposure or outbreak.

Updated interim guidance has been endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), aligning with the updated COVID-19 Test and Isolate National Protocols, which reduces the time required for isolation following contact.

This interim guidance provides clear advice to the aged care sector on how they can use their workforce flexibly in order to manage critical workforce shortages.

This includes clear criteria for aged care providers to allow a worker to continue to work if they have been exposed to COVID-19 but test negative, are asymptomatic and are willing to work. This also clarifies testing requirements following periods of isolation.

Boosters to be mandatory for all residential aged care workers across Australia

National Cabinet yesterday endorsed the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommendation to mandate COVID-19 booster vaccinations in residential aged care facilities.

All state and territory governments will implement this decision on mandatory booster doses for residential aged care workers consistent with arrangements already in place through state and territory public health orders and equivalent arrangements.

To support aged care workers get their boosters as soon as eligible, they will receive priority appointments through all vaccination channels:

  • Commonwealth in-reach clinics
  • Visiting primary care provider to facilities
  • State and territory vaccinations clinics
  • GPs
  • Community pharmacies
  • Commonwealth dedicated worker vaccination hubs

All providers and workers are encouraged to stay up to date as the National Cabinet decision on mandatory boosters for all residential aged care workers is implemented through state and territory arrangements. 

Currently, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia have already mandated boosters as a condition of employment for residential aged care workers.

Aged care workers in the Northern Territory

Residential, in-home and community aged care workers in the Northern Territory are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose as announced on 29 January 2022 - Mandatory vaccinations | Coronavirus (COVID-19) (nt.gov.au).

Aged care workers in South Australia

Residential aged care workers in South Australia are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose under the Emergency Management (Residential Aged Care Facilities No 45) (COVID-19) Direction 2022.

  • Under the order residential aged care workers must receive a booster dose of an approved vaccine within 4 weeks of becoming eligible in accordance with guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

In-home and community aged care workers in South Australia are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose under the Emergency Management (In-home and Community Aged Care and Disability Support Workers Vaccination No 3) (COVID-19) Direction 2022.

  • Under the order residential aged care workers must receive a booster dose of an approved vaccine within 4 weeks of becoming eligible in accordance with guidelines set by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Aged care workers in Victoria

Residential aged care workers in Victoria are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose under the Pandemic COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Specified Facilities) Order 2022.

Yesterday, the Victorian Government extended the deadline for booster doses:

  • Residential aged care workers who were eligible for a third dose (booster) before 12 January 2022 will now have until 12 March 2022 to receive their booster.
  • Residential aged workers who became eligible after 12 January 2022 must have received their third dose (booster) vaccine by 29 March 2022.

Aged care workers in Western Australia

Residential, in-home and community aged care workers in Western Australia are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose under the ‘Booster Vaccination (restrictions on access) Direction’.

  • The direction – for workers in industries covered by previous vaccine mandates – requires aged care workers to receive a booster dose by 5 February 2022 to further limit the spread of the Omicron strain. 
  • The Direction sets out arrangements for workers that are not eligible for their booster by 5 February 2022.

ATAGI – New definition on ‘up-to-date' status for COVID-19 vaccination

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has updated its clinical advice to include that all individuals aged 16 years and over are recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose to maintain an ‘up-to-date’ status.

Consistent with current arrangements this booster dose is recommended from 3 months after the last primary dose and will now be recommended to be administered within 6 months of completing the primary schedule.

ATAGI has advised that a booster can be given safely and effectively at any time after 6 months to become ‘up-to-date’ in the event that the booster had not been received earlier.

In its advice, ATAGI acknowledges that this change in definition of up-to-date status for COVID-19 vaccines may impact the status of an individual’s COVID-19 immunisation certificate, and sufficient time should be provided to support implementation of changes. ATAGI has recommended they be made effective by the end of March 2022.

New HealthDirect Line for residential aged care facilities managing COVID-19

From Friday 11 February 2022, a new helpline is available to all workers in residential aged care facilities to support you to manage COVID-19 in your facility.

The phone number is 1800 131 330 and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A registered nurse will be available to provide information and advice on issues about:

  • what to do if one of your resident tests positive to COVID-19
  • ways to limit the spread to other residents, including quarantining and isolating
  • whether a resident is a candidate for oral antiviral treatment, noting that the nurse cannot prescribe treatments
  • information about COVID-19 vaccinations

Please note that this service does not replace the role of the General Practitioner, who will continue to make clinical decisions together with the resident, their family and representatives.

We would appreciate your feedback on the service and if there are other
COVID-19 questions you would like answered by the helpline. Please contact digital.cv19 [at] health.gov.au to provide your feedback.

Rapid Antigen Test Kits – update on supply for residential aged care facilities

The Australian Government is now moving to a regular weekly forward deployment of RAT kits through the National Medical Stockpile. The first forward deployment commenced on 1 January 2022, and the second deployment commenced on
8 February 2022. The next deployment is due to commence on 14 February.

Around 2.5 million RAT kits will be delivered to every residential aged care facility (RACF) around Australia each week with outbreak sites being prioritised for earliest delivery.

RACFs do not need to place an order. The allocation for each facility is based on the number of residents and staff that services report in the My Aged Care portal for vaccine reporting. 

Allocations for outbreak and exposure sites assume daily testing for staff and twice weekly testing for residents as well as testing for regular visitors engaged by the service and partners in care.

Allocations for other sites are based on twice weekly surveillance testing for staff and regular visitors and partners in care.

From 14 February 2022, RACFs will not be able to order RAT kits using the online form for PPE.  Outstanding orders will not be processed as we anticipate that requirements will be met by the weekly forward deployments.

If you are an outbreak or exposure site with an urgent requirement for RATs, please contact your Commonwealth Case Management team.

Streamlined changes to reporting a COVID-19 outbreak or exposure in residential aged care

From 28 February 2022, the department is streamlining how approved providers of residential aged care services report cases of COVID-19 to the Commonwealth.

New COVID-19 Support Portal

Providers will be able to report de-identified data on cases of COVID-19 outbreaks or exposure at a residential aged care facility via a new, online COVID-19 Support Portal, which will be accessed via the My Aged Care provider portal.

This portal will replace the current process of notification of a COVID-19 outbreak or exposure by emailing agedcareCOVIDcases [at] health.gov.au.

Up until Sunday 27 February 2022, providers will be required to continue to report COVID-19 cases to the Commonwealth by email, as well as to the relevant state or territory health department.  The Department will continue to monitor this mailbox for a transition period, and providers will be redirected to provide their information through the COVID-19 Support Portal.

The information collected via the new COVID-19 Support Portal is the same as the existing information required to be reported by providers to the Department of Health. We are simply making it more streamlined and effective.

Streamlining reporting to prioritise support where it’s needed

Immediate notification of COVID-19 cases is critical in the timely and effective provision of support by the Commonwealth to ensure optimum protection for residents and workers.

The COVID-19 Support Portal will offer residential aged care providers a more streamlined and efficient reporting mechanism and will further expedite the provision of support to providers when an outbreak occurs.

The portal will enable Commonwealth case management teams real time access to review the Commonwealth supports required. Providers will also be able to submit de-identified data and update this information in the one place as the situation evolves.

Guidance available

Further information regarding the COVID-19 Support Portal, including an online reporting guide, will be available shortly.

Save the date – COVID-19 Support Portal webinar

The department is hosting a COVID-19 Support Portal webinar to guide users through the new reporting process, including how to use the portal and the benefits of moving to a real time, streamlined system.

What: COVID-19 Support Portal Webinar

For: Residential aged care providers, facility managers and IPC leads
When: Wednesday 23 February 2022 – 2.00 to 3.00pm AEDT
11.00am – 12.00pm WA  |  12.30pm – 1.30pm NT
1.30pm – 2.30pm SA  |  1.00pm – 2.00pm QLD

Further information, including details of panellists and access to the online reporting guide, will be provided shortly.

Fact sheet on managing your workforce affected by Omicron

This fact sheet gives providers practical advice on how to manage their workforce during an outbreak, including an expectation that providers exhaust all possible avenues before utilising Commonwealth funded workforce surge.

This includes advice on how to use available workforce effectively including step by step instructions on how to use the Interim Guidance on Permissions and Restrictions for Workers in Aged Care. It also provides advice on surge workforce support that may be available

The fact sheet also encourages providers to consider all types of workforce support including encouraging families to act as ‘partners-in-care.’

Oral antivirals for RACFs – link to webinar held on Monday 7 February 2022

A webinar was held on 7 February 2022 to update the aged care sector on the COVID-19 response and the vaccine rollout. The panel included Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, and other the senior Government officials, and provided key updates on the new COVID-19 oral treatments and answer participants' questions.

A recording of the webinar is available online for those who could not attend or who would like to view the material again.