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COVID-19 information for older Australians

14-minute read

IMPORTANT: If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed or probable COVID-19.

Check your symptoms

Use the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Why is the coronavirus (COVID-19) so dangerous for older people?

If you are exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19), you are at much greater risk of serious illness if you are an older person and therefore more likely to have a chronic condition or a weakened immune system.

If you are over the age of 70 (over 60 for people with pre-existing medical conditions, or over 50 for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with pre-existing medical conditions) you are strongly advised — for your own protection — not to leave home unless absolutely necessary. Wherever possible, you should ask family, friends, neighbours or community members to shop for groceries or collect medicines for you.

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, or any immunity in the community.

People living with dementia or some form of cognitive condition may be less able to follow instructions or to let others know about possible COVID-19 symptoms. This is especially so where they find it difficult to communicate verbally or to express pain and discomfort. Someone who knows the person with dementia may be able to help notice changes in their health.

It is also important to remember that most people who display symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or fatigue may be suffering from a cold, flu, allergies or other respiratory illness rather than COVID-19.

I need additional healthcare services — where can I go?

Medicare-subsidised telehealth services are available to all Australians. Patients, including residents in aged care facilities, can access support from their own home using telephone or video conferencing with applications ('apps') such as FaceTime or Skype.

You can connect with GPs as well as to services for a wide range of conditions, including mental health and chronic health conditions. Patients can also access after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.

Contact your health service provider to ask whether telehealth or phone services are available to you.

Where a face-to-face consultation is required, patients will still be able to attend appointments at primary health clinics and hospitals.

The Australian Government is also speeding up the electronic prescribing ('e-prescribing') of medicines. E-prescribing allows a doctor to prepare an electronic prescription that patients can then share with their pharmacy electronically where the pharmacy is able to support home delivery of medicines.

You can find more information on telehealth and e-prescribing in the COVID-19 National Health Plan here.

Can I get my medicines delivered to me at home?

If you are older, have a chronic health condition, are vulnerable in some other way or you are in isolation, you can have Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medicines delivered to you at home.

You can also have your scripts filled remotely and delivered to you at home.

I can’t get a new prescription from my doctor – how do I get my usual medicines?

You can still get the medicines you need, at PBS prices, even if you can’t get a new prescription from your doctor.

Pharmacists can dispense up to one month’s supply of your usual medicine without a script. You must previously have been prescribed the medicine and the pharmacist must be satisfied it is urgently needed.

Pharmacists can also substitute dose strengths or forms of medicines without the prescribing doctor’s approval if a medicine is unavailable when they are dispensing.

I have a Home Care Package — will it change?

The services you currently receive will continue. However, there may be some changes in the way a service is delivered. For example, home care staff may limit person-to-person touch where possible, or wear masks and gloves where they may not have done previously.

If you are concerned about the way your current services are delivered or would like to make changes because of the COVID-19 crisis, please contact your provider. They may be able to arrange help with going to the shops, or arrange for your carer to shop on your behalf.

People with Home Care Packages can be flexible in how they spend their funds across the range of care and services that support them in staying safe, healthy and independent in their own homes. Meanwhile, the Australian Government will ensure home care providers have even greater support to meet the changing needs of clients during the crisis.

In an emergency, if an older Australian has fully allocated their Home Care Package, they may access short-term home support services, such as nursing, personal care and meals. Speak with your home care provider about this.

What if I need urgent assistance that my current carer cannot provide?

Older Australians who need urgent assistance can access short-term home support services, such as meals and personal care, without needing to have an aged care assessment. Assessments can also be conducted, where appropriate, using telehealth phone or video call rather than being done face-to-face. Speak with a home care provider about these options.

Which vaccinations do older people need?

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. While COVID-19 remains in the community, it is very important that you reduce your risk of getting other illnesses. It is important that you get the 2020 flu vaccination as soon as it is available from your GP or pharmacy.

Discuss with your doctor whether you should also have a pneumococcal vaccination against pneumonia, which is recommended for everyone over 65. You should also discuss having a shingles vaccination.

Can I still have contact with my friends and family?

The Australian Government is advising everyone to practise 'social distancing' to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). If you are over the age of 70, (over 60 with a pre-existing medical condition or an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person over 50 with a pre-existing medical condition), you are strongly advised not to leave your home unless absolutely necessary.

Wherever possible, you should ask family, friends, neighbours or community members to shop for groceries or collect medicines for you. You should also avoid face-to-face contact with other people, especially young children and large groups of people. You should only have one other person in your home at any one time.

Children and young people might be carriers of the coronavirus (COVID-19) but show no symptoms, making it very difficult to tell whether it's safe for them to visit an older relative.

These changes may be stressful both for you and your loved ones. However, a chat over the phone, a video call or using email rather than personal visits could help stop the spread of COVID-19 and will help protect you.

Should I continue to visit older friends and relatives?

If you are an older person, you should not be visiting other older family and friends.

If you are over the age of 70 (over 60 for people with pre-existing medical conditions, or over 50 for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with pre-existing medical conditions) you are strongly advised — for your own protection — not to leave home unless absolutely necessary. Wherever possible, you should ask family, friends, neighbours or community members to shop for groceries or collect medicines for you.

It is a stressful time, however, and it’s important to keep in touch with your friends and relatives, so consider keeping in touch via phone and video calls. You could even send postcards, photos or artwork, or film short videos to share. This will limit your exposure to COVID-19 as well as the chance of your accidentally spreading it to other older people.

If you can't visit older family and friends, consider keeping in touch via phone and video calls. You could even send postcards, photos or artwork, or film short videos to share. This will limit your exposure to COVID-19 as well as the chance of your accidentally spreading it to other older people.

If you regularly visit someone living with a cognitive impairment, consider other ways to maintain social contact. This will help reassure those who might feel anxious about possible changes to their day-to-day life. You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

If you have returned from overseas, have been in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, or you have COVID-19 yourself, you must be isolated for 14 days (from your arrival in Australia if you're a returned traveller). You can't visit people and they can't visit you, but you can stay in touch by phone, video call or online.

It is important to stay up to date with — and to follow — Australian Government advice. For advice and information, go to health.gov.au.

What should I do if I start to feel unwell?

If you start to feel unwell, phone the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or contact your doctor (GP) who will be able to give you further advice.

Medicare-subsidised telehealth services are available to all Australians, and patients who need healthcare, including those resident in aged care facilities, can access support from their own home using telephone or video conferencing with applications ('apps') such as FaceTime or Skype.

You can connect with your GP as well as to services related to a wide range of conditions, including mental health and chronic health conditions. You can also access after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.

Contact your health service provider to ask whether telehealth or phone services are available to you.

Even if you are feeling well, it is important to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Good hygiene and taking care when interacting with other people are the best defences, so it's important that you:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.
  • Dispose of tissues, immediately after they are used, into a dedicated waste bin and wash your hands straight afterwards.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating, after going to the toilet, and when you have been out in public.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, if soap and water is not available.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you have touched.
  • Stay 1.5 metres away from other people and practise other forms of 'social distancing'.
  • If you are unwell, avoid contact with others.

Can I get help if I can't buy things at my local shops?

Some supermarkets have special arrangements for older people. Please contact your local supermarket directly for more information. For more advice on grocery shopping, please visit cota.org.au/covid19.

Should I be wearing a mask?

Only people who have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 are required to wear surgical masks, and only when they are around other people. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask.

Specific requirements are in place for people who have returned from overseas or been in close contact with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

If you are required to isolate, you should use a surgical mask (if you have one) in the following circumstances:

  • You need to leave your home for any reason and will be in public areas.
  • You are visiting a medical facility.
  • You have symptoms and other people are present in the same room as you.

I received an email, SMS, or phone call about COVID-19 from someone I don't know or don't trust. Is it a scam?

Unfortunately, there have been several reports of scams related to COVID-19. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19, please rely on Australian Government material.

If you receive a communication that you think might be a scam, delete the message. Do not open any electronic attachments, and do not click on any links. If you think someone may have accessed your financial information, contact your bank immediately.

For the most up-to-date information on scams in Australia, please visit staysmartonline.gov.au or call 1300 292 371.

More information

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to health.gov.au or healthdirect.gov.au/coronavirus. The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call TIS National on 131 450.

For further information from COTA visit cota.org.au/covid-19, or speak to your state or territory COTA representative.

If you have concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.

More frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Click on the links below for more questions and answers about the coronavirus (COVID-19).


Information and alerts

Visit the Department of Health's website for the latest alerts on COVID-19 in Australia, or the World Health Organization's website for global updates.


Resources in other languages


Information for health professionals

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) provides coronavirus (COVID-19) information for GPs.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2020


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