General Practice Bulletin - Changes to pandemic management

General Practice Bulletin - Changes to pandemic management

20 October, 2022

Changes to pandemic management

Victoria has moved to an enduring stage of the pandemic in which:

  • The Pandemic Declaration and the Pandemic Orders have expired.
  • There is no mandatory requirement for those testing positive for COVID-19 to isolate.

Additional information: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Victoria | Coronavirus Victoria

The Victorian Department of Health’s Pandemic Orders Policy Team has provided the following advice on legal requirements post pandemic orders.

Vaccination requirements

In lieu of pandemic orders, from Thursday 13 October 2022, vaccine mandates will only remain for healthcare workers (via a Secretary’s Direction) in:

  • public health services
  • public hospitals
  • denominational hospitals
  • private hospitals and day procedure centres
  • ambulance services
  • patient transport services that are engaged by a health service or Ambulance Victoria
  • public sector residential aged care services
  • Forensicare (via Ministerial Directions, influenza only)

There is no legal requirement for other health service base industry outside the list above.

However, under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) employers will still be required to provide a safe working environment for its employees, so far as reasonably practicable. Where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable and when elimination is not possible, reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.

As such there is an onus on employers to provide and maintain a working environment for their employees that is safe and without risks to health and that other persons (clients/customers) are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the employer's activities. Under Victoria’s OHS laws, employers are able (but not required) to implement polices requiring workers to be up to date with their vaccinations. Consistent with these obligations, employers can choose to determine a policy of requiring their workers to be vaccinated and enforce this as a condition of employment where they are required to attend a place of work away from their normal place of residence. This would be an employer by employer responsibility.

Legal requirements on mask wearing, isolation for staff and to maintain a COVID safe plan

There are currently no legal requirements related to any of these public health measures, in part because there is no instrument outside of pandemic orders to continue these mandates.

As per the Post Pandemic Declaration advice (attachment) the department’s public health advice continues to strongly recommend measures for mask wearing, isolation and retaining COVIDSafe Plans. It would be a decision for individual community health services, general practices and community pharmacies to introduce policies to bring these recommendations to effect.

Noting, that as above employers continue to have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees. This includes preventing risks to health (including psychological health) and safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19. Like other OHS risks, it would be a decision for individual settings to assess what is reasonably practicable for their own workplaces and employees, with guidance provided being a strong indicator of meeting the standard of behaviour expected of a reasonable person in the employer’s position.

Telehealth – 12 month ruling

Effective from Thursday 13 October 2022 until 31 December 2022, an exemption has been implemented for COVID-19 positive patients from the established relationship requirement for telehealth services provided by General Practitioners (GPs) and Other Medical Practitioners (OMPs). This enables COVID-19 positive patients to access Medicare rebates for telehealth services with any GP.

A COVID-19 positive patient is defined under these new arrangements as a person who has received a positive COVID-19 test result within the last 7 days, confirmed by either a laboratory testing (PCR) or a COVID-19 rapid antigen self-test (RAT) which has been approved for supply in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The determination which puts the exemption in place has been registered on the Federal Register of Legislation and is available here.

For clarity, the level C telehealth item for assessment and consideration of COVID-19 antivirals is excluded from the 1 in 12 rule. That is, there is no requirement for a pre-existing relationship and this item is unaffected by any change in state and territory Public Health Orders.

In relation to broader telehealth, it is important to note that the established relationship requirement still does not apply to:

  • children under the age of 12 months
  • people who are homeless
  • patients receiving an urgent after-hours (unsociable hours) service
  • patients of medical practitioners at an Aboriginal Medical Service or an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service
  • people isolating because of a COVID-related State or Territory public health order, or in COVID-19 quarantine because of a State or Territory public health order, or
  • people living in a flood-affected area, defined as a State or Territory local government area which is currently declared as a natural disaster area due to flood by a State or Territory Government.