COVID-19 FAQs for veterinary practitioners

UPDATE 2 June 2021

On 2 June 2021, in response to the continuing COVID outbreak in Melbourne, the Victorian Government announced:
  • for Melbourne, an extension of lockdown to 11:59, Thursday 10 June 2021
  • for regional Victoria, some easing of restrictions though masks must still be worn.

In Melbourne, people can still only go out for food and supplies, authorised work, care and caregiving, exercise, and to get vaccinated (if eligible). Veterinary clinics and related services (on-farm visits and animal care services) are authorised providers 'where there is a genuine animal welfare issue, or for the purposes of artificial insemination'. There is a 4 metre density limit, and masks must be worn indoors and outdoors (unless a person is exempt from wearing one). More info: Table of Restrictions.

WHERE TO CHECK FOR UPDATES AND LATEST WORKPLACE DIRECTIONS: You can keep up to date at Victoria's restriction levels.

Frequently asked questions about veterinary services and the COVID-19 pandemic

Click on an FAQ below for more information. Note these FAQs may not be up-to-date when restrictions are tightening or easing rapidly. For up-to-date summaries of the current situation and current Workplace Directions, see Victoria's restrictions levels.

Yes, under current restrictions veterinary practices in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria are open. They can provide veterinary services to members of the public as long as they follow the Workplace Directions from Victoria's Chief Health Officer, including having a COVIDSafe Plan. Animal owners should be aware that veterinary clinics must have a COVIDSafe Plan, and this plan may include mask wearing and other social distancing measures.

Staff in veterinary practices can go to work. At 27 March 2021 in Victoria, onsite office work was no longer capped and workplaces can return to work at 100% capacity if they are able to do so in a COVIDSafe way. Exceptions include if staff:
  • have COVID symptoms, are isolating at home waiting for test results, have had a positive COVID test and not been cleared to return to work, are a known contact of a COVID case, and/or are in isolation or quarantine or subject to detention orders, e.g. arrived from another country.
  • do not have a permit to work interstate, if any border restrictions are in place.

A veterinary practitioner may enter an owner's premises to provide veterinary services.

Mobile veterinary practitioners who use their vehicle predominantly as a workplace must have a COVIDSafe Plan (the Chief Health Officer's Workplace Directions define a work premises as the premises of an employer in which work is undertaken, including any vehicle whilst being used for work purposes).

When visiting a client's premises, veterinary practitioners must take the preventative measures specified in the Workplace Directions e.g. any face covering rules currently in place, density quotient, record-keeping. Before an appointment is made, it is necessary to establish with a client whether they have any symptoms, or are in isolation or quarantine. Any mobile veterinary practitioner who has symptoms must follow the instructions for suspected COVID cases in the Workplace Directions.

The Workplace Directions are just minimum requirements. Mobile veterinary practitioners should exercise their professional judgement about any other measures they might take when visiting client premises to see patients, e.g. use of PPE.

If a client who is isolating and sick insists there is no way to treat a sick animal other than attend the premises, call the coronavirus hotline (1800 675 398). Current Diagnosed Persons and Close Contacts directions sub-clause 8(2)(c) specifies that persons in self-isolation and self-quarantine, 'must not permit any other person to enter the premises unless' that 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 disability 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.

Where government directions prevent a veterinary practitioner from visiting a person's home, other options include to:
  • undertake remote consultations - see the Board's guidance at Remote consultations (telemedicine and assisted-technology consultations)
  • after 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.

For veterinary practices:
  • a general veterinary practice can provide usual veterinary services to clients who bring animals to the vet
  • a veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home.

For other animal-related activities and occupations, check current restrictions levels.

How far you can travel within Victoria will depend on the level of restrictions in place:

Clients should check veterinary clinic requirements before their appointments. Clinics will have rules to ensure they meet physical distancing requirements. Clients must bring a face mask with them and may be required to wear the mask if they enter the clinic.

Clients who are unwell, in quarantine or in isolation must not leave home. They should contact their veterinary practitioner by phone for advice on what to do to ensure an animal gets the care it needs.

For interstate travel, border controls are subject to change. For the most up to date restrictions and to apply for border permits, check relevant State or Territory Government information:

Veterinary practitioners may be able to provide treatment by telemedicine: see Board guidance, Remote consultations (telemedicine, technology-assisted consultations)

The 6 principles of COVIDSafe Workplaces
All veterinary workplaces must follow the six principles of COVIDSafe workplaces:
  1. ensuring physical distancing (1.5 metres)
  2. wearing a face mask in settings where they are mandatory (or, recommended, if you cannot keep 1.5 metres from another person in the workplace)
  3. practising good hygiene
  4. keeping records and acting quickly if staff become unwell
  5. avoiding interaction in enclosed spaces
  6. creating workforce bubbles.
The Chief Health Officer's Workplace Directions

All veterinary workplaces must follow the Victoria's Chief Health Officer's Workplace Directions. The Workplace Directions contain rules on preventative measures, plus what must be done if a workplace has a suspected or confirmed COVID case. The purpose of the Workplace Directions is to limit the number of Victorians attending work premises to assist in reducing the frequency and scale of outbreaks of 2019-nCOV in Victorian workplaces and to establish more specific obligations on employers and workers in relation to managing the risk associated with 2019-nCOV' [COVID].

Summary of preventative measures in the workplace directions:
  1. Face covering: Depending on which rules are in place (e.g. in the Stay Safe Directions), masks may either be required to be worn indoors OR always carried and worn when people cannot stay within 1.5 metres of each other. NOTE: face shields on their own do not meet the face covering requirements. Directions include some exceptions to any situation where a mask is required. Directions also refer to Department of Health and Human Services' guidelines for further information.
  2. COVIDSafe Plan: An employer must, for each work premises, have in place a COVIDSafe Plan which addresses the health and safety issues arising from 2019-nCoV. An employer and the employer's workers must comply with the COVIDSafe Plan. In the Workplace Directions, a work premises is defined as the premises of an employer in which work is undertaken, including any vehicle whilst being used for work purposes, but excluding an employee's ordinary place of residence. See Creating a COVID Safe Workplace (Business Victoria).
  3. Record-keeping obligations: An employer must keep a record of all workers and all visitors who attend the work premises for longer than 15 minutes, including their first name, contact phone number, date and time of attendance, and areas of the work premises they attended.
  4. Density quotient: An employer must comply with the density quotient for each shared space and each publicly accessible area. The density quotient limits the number of people and the number of members of hte public permitted in those spaces at any one time to the number calculated by dividing the total publicly accessible space (measured in square metres) by 2.
  5. Signage requirement: An employer must display a sign at each public entry to each publicly accessible space that includes a statement specifying the maximum number of members of the public that may be present in the space at a single time, being the number permitted by the density quotient, rounded down to the nearest whole number. For example: for a 38.25 square metre space where the density quotient is 9.56, the sign should say that the maximum number of people that may be present in the space at a single time is 9
  6. Cleaning requirement: An employer must take all reasonable steps to ensure that shared spaces at which work is performed and areas accessible to members of the public at any work premises are clearned on a regular basis. Clauses 19, 20 and 21 of the Workplace Directions contains very specific cleaning rules.

Responding to suspected or confirmed COVID cases in the workplace: The Workplace Directions contain specific rules about what must be done while a worker who is a suspected case is isolating and waiting on test results. If a COVID case is confirmed, required actions include notifying Government authorities, undertaking a risk assessment, directing the diagnosed worker to isolate, directing close contacts of the worker to self-quarantine and watch for onset of COVID-symptoms, and cleaning affected areas.

Veterinary practitioners should exercise their professional judgement as to how to implement measures to follow the Workplace Directions and other government rules and recommendations on reducing the risk of COVID transmission.

Other measures veterinary practitioners may choose to implement to reduce COVID-19 transmission may include:
  • telephoning clients before an appointment to identify and assess any risk (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 and 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
  • undertaking remote consultations - see Remote Consultations (telemedicine and assisted-technology consultations)
  • wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), particularly masks and goggles, when interacting with clients

Veterinary practitioners who 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) must ensure they 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').

More resources on reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to staff and clients:

The Board has published information on remote consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency at: Remote consultations (telemedicine, technology-assisted consultations).

The requirement under Board Guideline 4 (see 4.7 and 4.8) to obtain informed consent (including informed financial consent) for any treatment or procedure undertaken applies in all circumstances. It is important that clients are provided with 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.

Instead of asking a 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 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 medical record.

The Australian Government's Animal Health Committee issued the following statement on 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:

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:

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 10 specifies that at least fifteen (15) units of structured activities and at least forty-five (45) units of unstructured activities should be undertaken over a consecutive 3-year cycle. 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 including points table and CPD record form: Continuing professional development for veterinary practitioners in Victoria 

Physical health: General support:

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

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DISCLAIMER

The FAQs above are for general information only and are not intended to be complete. It is your responsibility to inform yourself and keep updated as circumstances change. Veterinary practitioners should exercise their professional judgment and seek appropriate advice on complying with government rules in their particular circumstances.

The FAQs on this page contain links to third party websites of organisations which are responsible for or able to assist with the subject matter of an FAQ. These external sites  are controlled and produced by third parties. The Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria (VPRBV) has no control over and is not responsible for the content of any third-party website. Links to these websites are provided by the 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.

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