Last updated: 6 April 2020

Many people with ME/CFS and other vulnerable communities in Australia are concerned about the impacts of the spreading coronavirus disease COVID-19. Emerge Australia recognises that people with ME/CFS and other chronic illnesses are at higher risk of infection and have a valid reason for caution and concern.

We have compiled this easy-read resource with the latest information and advice and will continue to add updates as details are released about health measures and recommendations, financial supports, and the availability of new services as they are rolled out. The government advises these health measures and services will be in place for at least six months and may be extended.


Recommendations

Your health

  • If you have a fever or respiratory symptoms, seek medical help promptly. Call your doctor or clinic before making an appointment, tell them about your symptoms and follow their advice.
  • If you have severe breathing difficulty, call Triple Zero (000) immediately and tell them if you have travelled recently or had contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Wash your hands with soap more often than usual, especially if you have been out or had to touch things that other people may have touched.
  • Avoid touching surfaces as much as possible if you are out and about.
  • You should soap your hands for longer than usual (at least 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing the alphabet song). You can also use an alcohol-based sanitiser if soap and water are unavailable.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze do this into a crooked elbow rather you’re your hand; dispose of any tissues promptly and safely.
  • Clean any surfaces in your home that are frequently touched (these might include your phone, doorknobs and your fridge, for instance).
  • If you are dependent on carers, plan backup options if you can in case they become ill or need to care for their own family members.
  • Aim to have additional medications and household supplies on hand in case you need to stay at home for an extended period. Think of which people will be able to assist with shopping and delivering things to you if needed.

Social distancing

  • Gatherings are now limited to two people except for members of the same household or immediate family. This is enforceable by law and may be subject to fines.
  • Everyone should stay at home except for necessary outings to buy essential supplies, to exercise, for medical care requiring in-person consultations, for work or education if these can't be done remotely, or for compassionate reasons. This is enforceable by law and may be subject to fines.
  • Social distancing is critical to minimise the spread of contagion, and to keep the demand on health services to a manageable level. This means you should keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, and allow 2x2 metres per person when you are indoors.
  • Ask people not to visit unless it is absolutely essential.
  • People aged over 70, over 60 with pre-existing conditions, or Indigenous people older than 50 should stay home wherever possible for their own protection.

Travel, school and work 

  • Australians are advised not to travel overseas. Overseas arrivals to Australia will be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to return home from midnight on Saturday 28 March.
  • The Government recommends against any domestic travel unless it's for work, on compassionate grounds, or for essential services.
  • Schools remain open for families of essential workers but all other parents are advised to keep children at home to study remotely.
  • Employees are advised to work from home where possible.
  • Childcare services will be free from Sunday April 5, and current means tests and rebates will be scrapped under the new and temporary arrangement with the childcare sector. Priority will be given to working parents, pre-existing enrolments, and vulnerable or disadvantaged children. The system will be reviewed early in May with an extension to be considered in June.
  • If you are travelling in a taxi or rideshare service such as Uber, the Government recommends sitting in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Visitor restrictions are now in place in aged-care facilities although compassionate exemptions may be made in end-of-life situations.

Retail and venues

  • All entertainment and leisure venues are now closed. This includes pubs, clubs and other licensed venues, entertainment venues such as cinemas, casinos, children's play centres, amusement parks and arcades, playgrounds, sporting venues, swimming pools, gyms, wellness and fitness studios, places of worship and indoor boot camps. Social sporting-based activities are prohibited except for one-on-one personal training with social distancing.
  • Beauty and personal care salons are now closed. This includes spas, massage, tanning, waxing, nail and tattoo parlours. Hairdressers and barbers remain open, with social distancing applied. 
  • Restaurants, cafes and bottleshops remain open but only for take-away and delivery services. Food courts in shopping centres are closed, with take-away and delivery services operating. Markets (both indoor and outdoor) will be guided by state and territory governments.
  • Auction houses, real estate auctions and open houses are now closed. Private house inspections are allowed. 

State by State

Australian Capital Territory

  • Schools in the ACT have moved to online learning. Schools remain open for children who need to attend until the end of term on 9 April.
  • More information: https://www.act.gov.au

New South Wales

  • NSW residents are advised to work from home where possible.
  • Schools will remain open in NSW until the end of term on 9 April but parents are advised to keep students at home to attend classes online where possible.
  • More information: https://preview.nsw.gov.au

Northern Territory

  • Travellers into the Northern Territory are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Exemptions apply to essential services including health and emergency services, defence and police, flight crews and freight, and may also be granted on compassionate grounds.
  • All non-essential travel to the NT’s 76 remote communities is banned and a 14-day isolation period applies for community residents returning home from regional centres.
  • Schools will be 'student-free' from Monday 6 April although students whose parents work in essential services will be allowed to attend until the end of term on 9 April.
  • More information: https://nt.gov.au

Queensland

  • Travellers into Queensland are required to self-isolate for 14 days with exemptions for freight.
  • Queensland schools are now on term break.
  • More information: https://www.qld.gov.au

South Australia

  • South Australia closed its borders on Tuesday 24 March. Incoming travellers are required to sign a declaration about their health and ability to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Schools will be 'student-free' from Monday 6 April although students whose parents work in essential services will be allowed to attend until the end of term on 9 April.
  • More information: https://www.sa.gov.au

Tasmania

  • Tasmania has introduced a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in government-run facilities for all non-essential domestic and international arrivals.
  • Schools closed for an early end-of-term break on Friday April 3.
  • More information: https://www.tas.gov.au

Victoria

Western Australia

  • Western Australia will close its borders at midnight on Sunday 5 April except to essential services and workers.
  • School holidays have been brought forward to Monday April 6. Supervision will be provided for children whose families can not make other arrangements until the term officially ends on April 9.
  • More information: https://www.wa.gov.au

Health Services

The Prime Minister has announced a range of health measures and funding to help contain the spread of COVID-19, and to assist individuals and businesses impacted by the pandemic.

New health services beginning on Friday 13 March under Medicare are available to people quarantined as a result of infection as well as at-risk people who are self-isolating. The measures will be in place until 30 September, when they will be reviewed. 

  • Telehealth services – universal bulk-billed telehealth is available to all Australians from Monday 30 March. This means patients who do not need an in-person visit to health providers including GPs, specialists, midwives, nurses, allied health and mental health workers, can use their phones and video services such as Zoom, FaceTime and Skype for consultations.

  • Online prescriptions – the Government is fast-tracking the rollout of electronic prescribing and all pharmacies with e-prescribing will be eligible to participate in the home medicine services. Patients will continue to retain choice in their preferred pharmacy. 

  • Home medicine services – patients may have PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and medicines delivered to their homes. Pharmacies can also offer free delivery of prescriptions and other essential supplies under 500g once a month via Express Post. This service is available to the elderly, people who are self-isolating on medical advice and those with chronic health conditions from Monday 30 March.

  • Testing – the Government is establishing a Medicare-funded bulk-billed pathology test for COVID-19.

  • NDIS services – telephone meetings are now available to all current and new NDIS participants for reviews and new plans. Plans due to expire will be automatically extended by 12 months, and participants can request a 24-month extension. A new line item for Support Coordination has been added to Core to allow participants without Support Coordination funding to access the service through their Core budget. The NDIA says it will take a more flexible approach to amending plans and participants should contact the NDIA on 1800 800 110 if they need to talk to a planner, make changes to their plan or are having trouble sourcing services due to COVID-19.

Mental Health Services

  • Mental health organisation Beyond Blue has been funded to provide a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing helpline. For more information contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

COVID-19 Triage Hotline: 1800 020 080


Financial Assistance 

Support Payment

A payment of $750 will be made automatically between 31 March and 17 April to people who currently receive Centrelink payments including:

  • Age pension
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Carer Payment or Allowance
  • Parenting Payment
  • Austudy
  • Newstart
  • Youth Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Family Tax Benefit
  • Pensioner Concession Cardholders
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Cardholders

A second payment of $750 will be made automatically from July 13, except to those people who receive the new Coronavirus Supplement.

JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement

A Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight will be paid to people receiving JobSeeker (previously Newstart) payments from 27 April, including sole traders and casual workers who have lost significant income because of COVID-19 and are new to the scheme. Assets testing and waiting periods to access the JobSeeker payment have been waived, and the assets test for partners has been raised from $48,000 in annual income to just under $80,000. New Centrelink applicants are advised to start their claims online through the MyGov website rather than visiting a Centrelink office. Applicants who receive the new JobKeeper wage subsidy are not eligible for JobSeeker payments.

JobKeeper Payments

The Government introduced its JobKeeper wage subsidy on March 30. This pays employers $1500 per fortnight for each employee and must be passed on to staff. The system is being managed by the Australian Taxation Office to ensure compliance, and is available to full-time and part-time workers, sole traders and casuals who have been with their employer for 12 months or more and were employed on 1 March 2020. Those who receive the JobKeeper subsidy will not be eligible for JobSeeker payments. Businesses are eligible for the scheme if their revenue has dropped by 30% or more due to COVID-19, and must register with the ATO.

Temporary Allowances

Casual staff who contract COVID-19 or have to self-isolate and who meet the usual eligibility rules for residency, income and assets, may be entitled to sickness payments with a processing time expected to be about five days.

Mutual Obligation Exemptions

Income support recipients isolated at home on the advice of medical professionals or government authorities are exempted from meeting obligations during this period, and are not required to provide a medical certificate or to look for work.

Superannuation Access

People who are in financial stress are allowed to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation funds before June 30, and another $10,000 in the next financial year. People will not pay tax on the money they access, and withdrawals will not affect Centrelink payments. The minimum draw-down requirements for account-based pensions has also been halved.

Eviction Moratorium

Evictions from residential and commercial properties have been banned for six months. Tenants under financial stress are advised to discuss short-term agreements with their landlords. 

More Information

COVID-19 funding support for households: https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/households


Grocery Shopping

Coles and Woolworths have introduced a dedicated Community Hour for at-risk customers. Beginning at Coles on 26 March and at Woolworths on 30 March, the stores are open only to the elderly and vulnerable members of the community from 7am to 8am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and to emergency services and healthcare workers on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

To ensure social distancing measures, Coles and Woolworths will begin restricting the number of customers allowed in stores at busy times. Customers may be required to queue outside, and staff will provide direction and advice.

Woolworths has introduced a Basics Box for $80 which will be delivered to people who are struggling to get groceries in the ACT, NSW, SA, Tasmania and Victoria, with Queensland, NT and WA to follow. It contains pantry items and essentials including toilet paper, soap, flour, sugar, pasta, canned goods, tea and biscuits, and will be delivered by Australia Post within 2 to 5 business days from ordering. Note that the box does not contain perishable goods such as dairy products, meat, frozen foods or fresh fruit or vegetables, and customers are not able to select or switch items included. A similar service will be introduced from Coles in coming weeks. For more information or to place an order go https://www.woolworths.com.au 

Woolworths rolls out its new Priority Assistance Partner Pickup from Monday 6 April. This allows customers to place online orders for someone to pick up on their behalf, and will be available in more than 100 stores for drive-through pickup and at the service desk in about 600 stores.

Online shopping at Coles and Woolworths are now only available to people who are vulnerable or isolated, although Woolworths has announced its normal delivery service is being reactivated for all customers and should be operational after the Easter break. Currently eligible online customers for both Coles and Woolworths include:

  • Seniors
  • People with a disability
  • People with compromised immunity
  • People who are required to self-isolate

To access Woolworths online shopping, you will need to complete a Priority Assistance form, and include proof of a concession or health care card. Woolworths says applications will be processed within 48 hours.The Coles online priority service is being rolled out and may be available in certain areas.

Woolworths priority assistance application:  https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/discover/priorityassistance

Coles online priority service: https://shop.coles.com.au

From Monday 6 April NDIS participants have priority access to home delivery services from participating supermarkets including Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Foodland IGA, Foodworks and Harris Farm. The NDIA is sending participants a unique code by SMS or email to access the NDIS Priority Home Delivery Service when completing online shopping orders. For more information visit the website of your selected participating supermarket.

Trading hours for supermarkets and pharmacies have been deregulated in South Australia and New South Wales to allow 24-hour trading, and other states are likely to follow. This initiative has just been announced and we recommend you check with your local shops for any changes to their trading hours.


Sources, Contacts and More Information:

National COVID-19 Triage Hotline: 1800 020 080

Health Direct 24-hour health advice: 1800 022 222

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au

GP, pharmacy and health services finder:

https://health.govcms.gov.au/resources/apps-and-tools/healthdirect-find-a-health-service

Services Australia:

https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au

COVID-19 financial support for households:

https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/households

NDIS information for participants and carers:

https://www.ndis.gov.au

NDIS Coronavirus information:

https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/ndis-and-other-government-services/ndis-and-disaster-response

Australian Prime Minister’s Office media releases:

https://www.pm.gov.au/media

Department of Social Services:

https://www.dss.gov.au/about-the-department/covid-19-information-and-support#one

Department of Health – health alert information:

https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

Beyond Blue:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au

News and information about COVID-19 in 63 languages:

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/coronavirus

Department of Health – resources:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-resources?fbclid=IwAR2EUEIJ7gqSfzt4i-wTKn5hH0iCoipJipA_UuqsnMqZuYaZU0dueJ61fk4

World Health Organisation:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US):

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html


Useful Resources

Government advice and updates for mobile devices:

Coronavirus Australia app at the Apple Store and Google Play

Official WhatsApp channel for iOS and Android

Sydney-based ME/CFS specialist GP Dr Mark Donohoe blog Some advice about chronic fatigue syndrome and SARS CoV-2, posted 31 March 2020:

http://www.mimpractice.com/blog/2020/3/31/some-advice-about-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-and-sars-cov-2-coronavirus

Bateman Horne Center COVID-19 information and resources (US):

https://batemanhornecenter.org/covid19/

#MEAction COVID-19 resources page (includes hospital checklist and admittance form, US-based):

https://www.meaction.net/covid-19/?utm_source=%23MEAction+Newsletter+2020&utm_campaign=bd1cdf02f5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_17_09_37_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f3c3e8823d-bd1cdf02f5-351794393&mc_cid=bd1cdf02f5&mc_eid=887edeca9f

Article from Dr Charles Shepherd at the ME Association in the UK. Specific ME/CFS information but also very UK focused, significantly updated 31 March:

https://www.meassociation.org.uk/2020/03/me-association-full-guidance-coronavirus-and-me-cfs-by-dr-charles-shepherd-30-march-2020/

Dr Nancy Klimas: COVID-19 & ME/CFS (audio only, 14 mins), posted 13 March 2020:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=pkGXiJ1jM14&fbclid=IwAR0xN71uBnuPCQlA5z_6_VyJpHUy6nuOKI_HYKW6YZClEtfBrN4KYmftBko&app=desktop

Dr Nigel Speight has put together advice for people with Severe ME/CFS, posted 5 March 2020:

https://solvecfs.org/coronavius-and-members-of-the-25-me-group-severe-me-charity/?fbclid=IwAR0l259FaVmMPSbAnn9qn-YXnYuH7kPmqWAl0zmwyI_E8eAjsT0nlqdIHwY

Useful information from patient and advocate Jennie Spotila, posted 28 February 2020:

http://occupyme.net/2020/02/28/a-new-virus-and-me/

A resource from the Center for Disability Rights about what to do if you use support workers and you - or they - need to be isolated, posted 24 February 2020:

http://cdrnys.org/blog/programs-services/action-steps-for-attendant-service-users-in-response-to-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR1ZH9cNkvCgQ4xNiJCom0_V_jBLggIfx5QtBWHt3UFuXlDAr_T-k0R_X_o