UPDATE 6 AUGUST 2020: Escalated restrictions in Victoria

Under the Stage 4 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions which apply to metropolitan Melbourne, "Veterinary clinics and related services including: on-farm visits, animal care services (only where there is a genuine animal welfare issue) and artificial insemination" can stay open if they have a COVIDSafe plan. Vetboard Victoria is seeking more information from the Victorian Government on what services can be provided by veterinary clinics, how far people can travel to go to a veterinary clinic, and on how the 8pm-5am curfew in Metropolitan Melbourne affects veterinary clinics and clients, and we will publish this when available.

All open businesses and services will have until 11:59pm Friday 7 August to enact a COVIDSafe plan focused on safety, prevention and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace:
  • For information on making such a plan, see Creating a COVID Safe Workplace (Business Victoria, page being updated throughout this week).
  • For information on permits for permitted workers at open businesses and services, see: Permitted Worker Scheme (Business Victoria).

More information: Premier's Statement on Business Restrictions (includes Guide for Business: Stage 4 Restrictions) and current 'Stay at Home' directions (necessary goods and services, clause 6(1)(c)((vii)). Please direct any questions to the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services.


COVID-19 FAQs for veterinary practitioners

The Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria (VPRBV) provides general information only. It is your responsibility to inform yourself and keep updated as circumstances change. You should exercise your personal and professional judgment and seek appropriate advice as to what is appropriate to your circumstances.

In response to enquiries from registered veterinary practitioners in Victoria, this is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). This information is for your general information and is not intended to be complete: you may need to make further enquiries based on your own circumstances. The FAQs direct you to third party websites of organisations which are responsible for and/or able to assist you with the subject matter of an FAQ. The VPRBV has no control over and is not responsible or liable for the content of any third-party website. 


Where can I get personal support during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Physical health: General support:

>> BACK TO TOP


Where can I get the latest information on COVID-19?

App download: General: For businesses: Veterinary-related:

>> BACK TO TOP


Are veterinary services classified as essential services?

The Hon. David Littleproud MP, Federal Minister for Agriculture has stated, 'The Federal Government considers the role of veterinarians essential to the agricultural sector and therefore to our nation’s food security but also in protecting companion animals and our nation’s wildlife. The Federal Government has not put any restrictions on veterinarians other than social distancing and hygiene practices during the COVID-19 crisis.' (Sent to Australian Veterinary Association 27 March 2020).

In addition:
  • the website of the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment states, ‘veterinarians who support farming, food and beverage production are not impacted by restrictions on non-essential gatherings and businesses’
  • for areas where Stay at Home restrictions are in place, veterinary services are classified as 'other necessary goods or services' which 'a person may leave their premises to obtain'. However, there are restrictions on how far a person can travel to obtain necessary goods and services.
  • under Victoria's current restrictions, veterinary clinics are NOT listed in the types of places not currently allowed to operate.

>> BACK TO TOP


Can I go interstate to treat patients?

Most Australian State and Territories have imposed restrictions on entry from Victoria. There are some exemptions to these rules. More information can be obtained from the relevant State or Territory Government.

Consider whether you can provide treatment by telemedicine: see Board guidance, Remote consultations (telemedicine, technology-assisted consultations)

>> BACK TO TOP


Can veterinary practitioners go to work under current government directions issued under the State of Emergency?
Can I keep my practice open?

Under Stage 4 ‘Stay at Home (Restricted Areas)’ restrictions which apply to metropolitan Melbourne, veterinary clinics and related services (including on-farm visits and to veterinary clinics, animal minding services and artificial insemination), can stay open with a COVIDSafe plan. People can also leave their homes to go to a veterinary clinic (necessary goods or services).

For veterinary practitioners who live in areas subject to Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas):
  • Clause 8 of the current Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) indicates that persons may leave residential premises to attend work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home.
  • Veterinary clinics are listed as places that people may attend to obtain necessary goods or services under clause 6(1)(c)(vii) of current Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas).
For veterinary practitioners who live in areas subject to Stay Safe Directions:
  • Clause 5(2)(d)(iii) of current Stay Safe Directions indicate that a person can enter a restricted area for work.
  • Clause 6(1) of the current Stay Safe Directions indicates that persons may leave residential premises to attend work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home.
Exceptions:
  • Veterinary practitioner in quarantine, isolation or subject to detention orders, e.g. arrived from another country, known contact of COVID-19 case or waiting for result of COVID-19 test after experiencing symptoms.
  • Veterinary practitioner who lives in Victoria but works in a State which has imposed a border closure, who does not have a permit to cross the State border or is not otherwise exempt from restrictions on crossing the border. More information: Can I go interstate to treat patients?

>> BACK TO TOP


Can animals be brought to my practice under current government directions?

Whether animals can be brought to your practice depends on who wants to bring the animal to the practice:
  • If the animal is owned by a person subject to Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), e.g. they are in metropolitan Melbourne, they may leave the premises to obtain goods or services from a pet store or veterinary clinic (clause 6(1)(c)(vii)).
  • If the animal is owned by a person subject to Stay Safe Directions, i.e. they are not living in a restricted postcode, they may visit a veterinary practice (including a practice in a restricted area as per clause 5(2)(d)).
  • If the animal is owned by a person in quarantine, isolation or detention, that person should contact the Department of Health & Human Services on 1800 961 054 if they have a veterinary emergency.

Note: All persons visiting a veterinary practice must wear a face covering and there are restrictions on the numbers of people allowed in a practice. All people experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms are encouraged to get tested and remain at home till they get a result. 

>> BACK TO TOP


Can animals infect humans or other animals with COVID-19?

Following is a policy statement issued by the Australian Government's Animal Health Committee dated 19 May 2020:

'There have been no reports of the SARS CoV-2 virus infection in pets, livestock or wildlife in Australia.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advises that internationally, there is currently no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19. The current spread of COVID-19 is driven by human to human transmission.

Diagnostic testing and surveillance in animals for COVID-19 in Australia is only recommended on the advice of human and animal health authorities. If testing is undertaken, confirmatory testing should be performed at the CSIRO Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (the former Australian Animal Health Laboratory).

Veterinarians considering testing their patients for SARS Cov-2 must consult with their state or territory animal health authorities in the first instance.

Commercial entities who develop tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection in animals should reference the OIE’s guidelines for sampling and testing animals (PDF) and carefully consider the circumstances when testing may support human and animal health and welfare outcomes.

Animal owners/handlers should continue to implement good hygiene and farm biosecurity practices where animals are kept, including washing their hands before and after contact with animals.

People who are sick or under medical attention for COVID-19 should avoid or minimise close contact with animals as a precaution.

This policy statement will be reviewed and updated as further information comes to hand.'

Information on animals and COVID-19:

>> BACK TO TOP


What action do I need to take to protect myself, colleagues and clients?
How can we comply with physical distancing guidance?
Are there restrictions on gatherings in a veterinary workplace?
How can we keep the veterinary clinic clean?

Worksafe Victoria requires employers to take steps to identify, and eliminate or reduce, risks to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus at their workplace.

COVIDSafe plan: For metropolitan Melbourne, from 11:59pm Friday 7 August, open businesses and services will be required to have a COVIDSafe plan focused on safety, prevention and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace. For information on how to make this plan, see Creating a COVID Safe Workplace (Business Victoria, page being updated throughout this week).

Face coverings: current directions require all persons in Victoria to wear a face covering if they are outside their ordinary place of residence, with some exceptions outlined in the directions, e.g. working by themselves in an enclosed indoor space until another person enters that space. A face mask includes a face mask or face shield designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide the wearer protection against infection.

Physical distancing, signs and cleaning: For clinics in areas subject to Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Areas), e.g. metropolitan Melbourne, clause 9(8) of the directions specifies that 'A person who owns, operates or controls an open retail facility during the restricted activity period must comply with the:
  • (a) density quotient for each indoor space - Under clause 4 of the directions, 'The density quotient limits the members of the public that are permitted in a space at any one time to the number calculated by dividing the total publicly accessible space (measured in square metres) by 4, and for an indoor space applies to each single undivided space permitted to operate under [the] directions.'
  • (b) signage requirement for each indoor space - Under clause 15(1)(a) of the directions, 'A person who owns, controls or operates an open retail facility which involves members of the public entering, must during the restricted activity period display a sign at each public entry to each such space that includes a statement that the maxiumum numer of members of the public that may be present in the space at a single time is the density quotient, rounded down to the nearest whole number.'
  • (c) cleaning requirement.' See clause 15(2) of the directions for a very specific list of cleaning requirements.

For clinics in other areas subject to Stay Safe Directions, there are very similar density quotients and signage and cleaning requirements. See Restricted Activities Direction No. 12 (as at 9 July 2020).

It is your decision as to how to implement measures to protect yourself and your team, maintain the required density quotient in work spaces (physical distancing), put up the required signs, and do the required cleaning - exercising your professional judgement and following government rules and recommendations on minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Additional measures to minimise the risk of transmission may include:
  • telephoning clients before an appointment to assess the risk they pose (e.g. are they sick?) and advise any changes to consultation procedures
  • where appropriate and safe, implementing “carpark consultations” to limit the number of people in waiting and consultation rooms and minimise interaction between clients and clinic staff
  • setting up drop-off points at clinic entrances where animals can be placed in a secure area to be collected for examination then returned afterwards
  • postponing provision of non-critical or urgent services that will not impact an animal’s health or welfare if delayed, e.g. grooming services
  • undertaking remote consultations - see Remote Consultations (telemedicine and assisted-technology consultations)
  • wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), particularly masks and goggles, when interacting with clients
  • deep cleaning the premises regularly
  • if possible, splitting staff into two or more teams, each working at different times; so if a person in one team becomes ill the other members in that team can self-isolate while the other unaffected team(s) continues to work.

If you decide to limit direct contact with clients (e.g. by clients leaving their animal at a drop-off point or another person presenting the client's animal to the clinic), you must ensure you communicate directly with the owner via telephone or video during the consultation to obtain the animal’s full and correct history and provide the animal’s owner with clear veterinary advice or direction (see Board Guideline 6 - 'Supply and use of drugs, scheduled drugs and other medications in veterinary practice' and Board Guideline 8 - 'Communication with clients').

Resources to help you implement measures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission to staff and clients:

>> BACK TO TOP


How can I use telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Refer to the Board's information on remote consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency at: Remote consultations (telemedicine, technology-assisted consultations).

>> BACK TO TOP


Do I have to get written consent from clients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes, but instead of asking the client to sign a paper form with a pen, veterinary practitioners may choose to email or text the client a copy of the consent form, along with any important supporting information. The requirement under Board Guideline 8.3.2 to obtain informed consent for any treatment or procedure undertaken applies in all circumstances, and it is important that clients are sent clear and understandable information about the proposed treatment or course of action. For a remote consultation, consent should record the client's knowledge and understanding of who is providing the service (name, location, practice affiliation, if any; and any conflicts of interest) and the limitations of remote advice.

The client could then either download and sign the document and email the signed document back (a preferred step for new clients) or reply by email/text advising that they understood the information and providing their consent. Copies of all communications - yours to the client and the client's return communications - should be attached to the veterinary record.

>> BACK TO TOP


How can I treat an unwell animal if a client is self-isolating or unwell?
Can I go to someone's house to treat their animal?
Can I continue my mobile veterinary practice?

Clause 9(2)(c) of current Diagnosed Persons and Close Contacts directions specify that persons in self-isolation and self-quarantine, 'must not permit any other person to enter the premises unless' the other person: lives there; is required to self-isolate or self-quarantine at the same premises; needs to enter for medical or emergency purposes; is a disability worker who needs to enter to provide a disabilty service to a person with a disability; needs to enter to provide personal care or household assistance to a person as a result of that person's age, disability or chronic health condition; or is required or authorised to enter by law.

A similar direction applies to people arriving in Victoria from overseas in compulsory quarantine (clauses 4(2) and 4(3) of current Direction and Detention Notice).

Call the coronavirus hotline (1800 675 398) if an isolating or quarantined client says there is no way to treat a sick animal other than attend the premises.

In other cases, it would be your decision whether to continue your mobile veterinary practice and/or attend a client's premises to treat an animal - exercising your professional judgement and following government rules and recommendations on minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission, e.g. physical distancing, cleaning, and isolation and quarantine rules. You may want to consider limiting the services you provide to what you judge to be critical, urgent and time-sensitive services and, where appropriate, delaying provision of services that may be able to be postponed.

Other possible options may include to:
  • undertake remote consultations, having regard to the Board's information at Remote consultations (telemedicine and assisted-technology consultations)
  • having established a bona fide client relationship, get the client to arrange for someone else who is well, not isolating, and has not been in contact with the person who is sick or isolating, to bring the animal to the clinic and wait outside while you see the animal.

>> BACK TO TOP


Do I have to work during this time?
Who can I speak to if I don’t feel safe practising in my place of my employment?
I am concerned that my practice/employer is not following government guidelines. What can I do?

Worksafe Victoria requires employers to take steps to identify, and eliminate or reduce, risks to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus at their workplace.

You will find resources to assist you with work-related questions at:

>> BACK TO TOP


How can I complete required Continuing Professional Development (CPD) if I have to self-isolate or if CPD events are being cancelled?
Do I have to do my CPD this year?

You should still be able to undertake Continuing Professional Development activities in the form of online assessed courses (which count as structured CPD units) and reading and other informal activities (which count as unstructured CPD). Board Guideline 13.1.2 specifies that over each three years (a triennium) at least fifteen (15) units of structured activities and at least forty-five (45) units of unstructured activities should be undertaken. The Board encourages you to look at your CPD record and determine how much CPD activity you need to complete to make up the three-year requirement – you might have enough CPD accumulated from last year and the year before. More information: Fillable CPD form

>> BACK TO TOP


DISCLAIMER

The external sites on this page are controlled and produced by third parties. Links to these websites are provided by Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria (VPRBV) for user information only, and do not constitute an endorsement of any material, product or service that may be found at those sites. The VPRBV makes no warranty, guarantee or representation in relation to the accuracy, currency, correctness, reliability, usability, suitability or any other aspect of any information and/or materials contained in external links. The VPRBV does not accept any liability for any form of loss or damage that may result from any person’s reliance on the information and/or materials contained in any external links.

>> BACK TO TOP