Judy and her mum live in the same suburb, but lockdown has kept them apart

To date, 82.9 per cent of Australia’s 273,214 residential aged care workers, including nurses, personal care workers, administration staff, cooks and cleaners, have had their initial shot. It’s an increase of nearly 10,000 since Monday.

Professor Lee-Fay Low, leader of the University of Sydney’s Ageing and Health Research Group, said visits for “essential caring functions” were being granted very sporadically, or not at all, by some operators.

“It was a provision brought in earlier this year at a national level to really distinguish between casual visitors and a resident’s ‘person’,” she explained, noting she had heard of people who used to visit their spouse or parent every day to groom and feed them but were now not considered essential carers.

Ms Christian agreed. “These people are not considered vulnerable because they have carers, but the residents are psychologically and mentally vulnerable – family visits provide wellbeing beyond physical care.”

Virtual visits, phone calls and online shopping deliveries are keeping aged care residents in contact with loved ones and major operators said they believed the restrictions were unlikely to change.

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Head of corporate communications at Anglicare Sydney, Aaron Malouf, said that although the operator was fully supportive of public health initiatives to reduce movement, it was “deeply regretful of the impact this has had on residents and families”.

“We are very aware of the demand from families and friends to see their loved ones in aged care,” he said, noting restrictions did not even allow people to drop off care packages, instead needing to order gifts online.

Mr Malouf said the operator was in discussions with government regarding how visits may be allowed in the future, including with capacity limitations and vaccination requirements.

A Uniting spokesperson said it had been making allowances for family member visits provided they were performing essential caring functions. They said it was likely restrictions would remain in place unless COVID-19 cases dropped “significantly”.

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“It is important to note that even when vaccinated, people can still contract and transmit COVID-19, but it does reduce the risk of serious illness,” they said.

While the Premier indicated double dose vaccination would be required for visitors, other nations have not taken this step.

Last month, the UK Department of Health and Social Care released new guidelines for family and friends visiting aged care residents in which vaccination is “strongly recommended”.

A review of international research on the wellbeing of aged care residents, conducted by Professor Low, indicated visitor bans had a “severe” negative impact on their mood and caused anxiety and guilt for loved ones, both due to separation and fear of an outbreak.

Professor Low said more needed to be done to focus on the wellbeing of older people during the lockdown, noting outdoor recreation for the fully vaccinated later this month would be useful for older people who may not be able to leave the house to actually exercise.

“I know we have the singles bubble, but I also think family bubbles would also make a difference to a lot of people,” she said.

“If there’s an older couple and it’s just them at home, being able to have a child come around and help out would be beneficial.”

with Rachel Clun

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