Last updated: 1 June 2020

COVID-19 restrictions in Australia continue to ease as the rate of new infections drop; at this stage however, the health measures and financial supports announced in March are expected to remain in place for six months until September 2020.

Many people with ME/CFS and other vulnerable communities in Australia continue to be concerned about the short and long-term impacts of 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 will continue to update this easy-read, comprehensive resource with the latest information and advice to assist the community.


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

  • On 8 May the Federal Government announced a three-stage process to ease social distancing measures in Australia. Individual states and territories will determine when each stage takes place:    https://www.pm.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/covid-safe-australia-roadmap.pdf
  • Individual social distancing is critical to minimise the spread of contagion and remains in place. You should keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, and allow 2x2 metres per person when you are indoors.

Travel and childcare

  • 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.
  • Childcare services will be free from Sunday April 5 until the end of June, and current means tests and rebates will be scrapped under the temporary arrangement with the childcare sector. Priority will be given to working parents, pre-existing enrolments, and vulnerable or disadvantaged children. The system is due to be reviewed this month.
  • If you are travelling in a taxi or rideshare service such as Uber, the Government recommends sitting in the back seat of the vehicle.

State by State

Australian Capital Territory

  • The ACT border remains closed except for essential services, and for two adults and their dependent children to travel into NSW to provide care and support.
  • Schools have begun a staggered return to classrooms. Students and teachers with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems may continue to study or work from home.
  • With social distancing maintained, up to 20 people may gather at restaurants and venues, beauty salons, spa and massage parlours, museums, galleries, outdoor attractions, caravan parks and campgrounds, weddings, places of worship, community centres and sport centres. Up to 50 people may attend funerals.
  • More information: https://www.act.gov.au

New South Wales

  • Borders remain closed except for essential services.
  • Travel is permitted for work (but try to avoid peak hour), school, exercise or to visit family and friends. Travel to regional NSW for holidays is also permitted.
  • Schools have resumed normal classroom learning.
  • With social distancing maintained, ip to 20 people can attend weddings, and up to 50 can attend funerals and places of worship. Restaurants and venues can cater to up to 50 customers, and beauty salons, museums, galleries and libraries can also reopen.
  • More information: https://preview.nsw.gov.au

Northern Territory

  • Border controls remain in place but tourism attractions, wildlife parks and guided tours are now open.
  • Normal classroom learning has resumed.
  • There are no limits on household visits, public gatherings, weddings and funerals.
  • Restaurants, clubs, bars, beauty parlours, shopping centre food courts, masseuses, indoor religious gatherings, libraries, museums and outdoor sports training may open with a two-hour limit. This time limit will be lifted on 5 June.
  • Team sports, gaming venues, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs will reopen on 5 June.
  • More information: https://coronavirus.nt.gov.au

Queensland

  • State borders remain closed but travel is now permitted anywhere in the state except to Indigenous communities.
  • Schools have resumed normal classroom learning.
  • The limit for gatherings is now 20 people except for funerals where a maximum of 50 is allowed.
  • More information: https://www.qld.gov.au

South Australia

  • Border controls remain in place but regional travel is allowed, and campgrounds and caravan parks are now open.
  • Normal classroom learning has resumed.
  • With social distancing maintained up to 80 people may gather at restaurants, venues and gyms as long as there's no more than 20 people in a group. Beauty salons, tattoo and massage parlours may also reopen, and gyms are restricted to 10 participants at a time. Up to 50 people may attend funerals.
  • More information: https://www.sa.gov.au

Tasmania

  • State border restrictions remain in place, including bans on regional travel although people may travel up to 30km from home to exercise. From 15 June visits to camping and overnight boating are expected to be allowed.
  • Students from Kindergarten to Year 6, and Years 11 and 12, have returned to normal classroom learning. Remaining years are expected to resume on 9 June. 
  • Up to five guests are allowed to visit another household.
  • Public gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted. Up to 20 mourners can attend indoor funerals, or up to 30 at outdoor funerals.
  • Pubs and cafes are open for up to 10 patrons. On 15 June this is expected to relax to 20, and cinemas and museums will also reopen.
  • More information: https://www.tas.gov.au

Victoria

  • Borders remain closed but travel is allowed to holiday homes, private residences or tourist accommodation.
  • People should continue to work from home if they have been doing so.
  • A staggered return to classroom learning began on 26 May with normal classrooms resuming on 9 June.
  • Up to 20 people can gather in homes including members of the household.
  • The 20-person rule, with social distancing, now applies to public gatherings, restaurants and venues, group sport, beauty salons, spas, massage and tattoo parlours, playgrounds and gyms, galleries, libraries and museums. Up to 50 people may attend funerals. 
  • More information: coronavirus.vic.gov.au or state hotline: 1800 675 398

Western Australia

  • Borders remain closed except for essential services, and state travel restrictions have been eased to four hard-bordered regions.
  • Normal classroom learning has resumed.
  • Up to 20 people may visit another household with social distancing observed.
  • Public gatherings are allowed for up to 20 people including fitness classes, places of worship and community facilities.
  • Up to 20 people may attend indoor weddings and funerals, or up to 30 if they take place outdoors.
  • Cafes and restaurants will be allowed to seat up to 20 people but may only serve alcohol with meals.
  • 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 – from 6 April the mandatory bulk-billing for telehealth services introduced on 30 March was amended to apply only to telehealth provided to concession card holders, children under 16 and patients who are deemed vulnerable to COVID-19 such as the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. These eligible patients who don't 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 and the fee will be bulk-billed with no out-of-pocket cost.
    Private billing has been reintroduced for all other patients who access telehealth, so health care providers can now apply their usual billing for phone and video consultations. The Department of Health advises that providers are expected to explain their fees and obtain "informed financial consent from patients prior to providing the service".
  • 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 has established 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.
  • Practical advice from government agency Head to Health, with links for more information: https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support

COVID-19 Triage Hotline: 1800 020 080


Financial Assistance 

Support Payment

The first of two payments of $750 was made to people currently receiving Centrelink payments between 31 March and 17 April 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 are exempted from meeting obligations until 8 June. From 9 June job seekers will be required to undertake at least one appointment with their employment services provider, which can be done online or over the phone. During this first phase of the reintroduction of mutual obligations, suspensions and financial penalties will not be applied and vulnerable job seekers may apply for exemptions. No dates have been given for the next two stages of reinstating requirements but Phase 2 will involve applying for work and Phase 3 will see penalties recommence.

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. A link to detailed information about the impacts of superannuation withdrawal from legal firm Maurice Blackburn is provided in the Useful Resources section below.

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 and Postal Services

Woolworths and Coles have resumed regular trading and suspended their early morning Community Hours.

Australia Post continues its temporary measures around deliveries during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Letter deliveries in metropolitan areas will be reduced to one delivery every two days, but existing delivery services will remain unchanged in rural and remote areas
  • Letter delivery times between states have been extended to five working days
  • Priority letters have been scrapped until further notice
  • Parcel delivery capabilities are being increased and parcels do not require a signature for delivery or collection
  • The Express Post guarantee of a refund and replacement envelope or satchel for articles that don’t meet the next business day delivery standard has been suspended
  • The Economy Air international delivery service has been temporarily suspended due to flight cancellations
  • More details and a list of countries, territories and regions with disrupted postal services is available on the Australia Post website: https://auspost.com.au/about-us/news-media/important-updates/coronavirus

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 temporary telehealth services:

http://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/0C514FB8C9FBBEC7CA25852E00223AFE/$File/COVID-19%20Bulk-billed%20MBS%20telehealth%20Services%20-%20Overarching%20060420.pdf

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/coronavirus

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

CovidSAFE tracing app at the Apple Store and Google Play

Superannuation changes explained with important points to consider from legal firm Maurice Blackburn:

https://www.mauriceblackburn.com.au/blog/2020/april/1/what-you-need-to-consider-before-withdrawing-your-super/

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