COVID-19 FAQs for veterinary practitioners

The FAQs below are for your general information only and are not intended to be complete. 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, on how to comply with Government rules in your circumstances. The FAQs direct you to third party websites of organisations which are responsible for or able to assist you with the subject matter of an FAQ. The Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria has no control over and is not responsible for the content of any third-party website. 

UPDATE 19 October 2020: Further easing of restrictions

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced further easing of restrictions both in metropolitan and regional Victoria in the move towards COVID Normal. Effective from Monday 19 October, residents of metropolitan Melbourne can travel up to 25 kilometres and there are no time limits on permitted activities. Pet grooming has been expanded and mobile pet groomers can now operate.

Essential actions to reduce the risk of COVID transmission must still be taken. Veterinary practitioners and their clients must wear face masks (face shields cannot be worn just on their own), with some permitted exceptions. It is important to note that we are still in Step 2 in metropolitan Melbourne and the workplace operations permitted for veterinary services have not changed:
*What is a genuine animal welfare issue?

It is the Board's view that a registered veterinary practitioner has the qualifications and knowledge required to triage an animal and determine if it needs to be seen for reasons of animal welfare. In each case, a veterinary practitioner should exercise their professional judgment. Any decision to proceed with a consultation should be noted in the animal's veterinary records. Government rules about minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission should always be followed during consultations.

Pet groomers in Melbourne during Step 2

Pet groomers, both retail and mobile, are now permitted to provide contactless service to their clients in metropolitan Melbourne. Pet owners can drop off their pets to the venue, and then pick them up when the service is completed, similar to other forms of “click and collect” services. More information: FAQs on looking after animals and pets (DHHS).

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Can veterinary practices stay open? Can veterinary practitioners go to work?


NOTE this FAQ will be updated further in the week beginning 19 October 2020.

Under the business and industry Stage 4 restrictions which apply to greater Melbourne, 'services connected with animal health, husbandry or welfare, including the RSPCA, are Permitted Work Premises'. Permitted businesses may operate if they comply with Workplace Directions, including having a COVIDSafe Plan and using work permits where required. Permitted businesses in the agriculture, fishing and forestry industries include 'veterinary clinics and related services, including on-farm visits, animal care services (only where there is a genuine animal welfare issue) and artificial insemination'. See full list here.

For veterinary practitioners who live in areas subject to Stage 4 Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), i.e. greater Melbourne:
  • Persons may leave residential premises to attend work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home (Directions, clause 8). They can enter non restricted areas for work, but Stage 4 rules apply (Directions, clause 5(1C). NOTE that current Workplace Directions state, 'An employer must not permit a worker to perform work at the work premises where it is reasonably practicable for the worker to work at the worker's place of residence or another suitable premises which is not the work premises.'.
  • A veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home to provide necessary goods and services (Directions, clause 11(1)). However, the directions also say, 'a person who ordinarily resides in the Restricted Area must not permit another person to enter the premises at which they ordinarily reside, unless it is necessary for the other person to enter the premises for ... work ..., provided that the premises is where the work will take place and such work is urgent and essential…' (Directions, clause 11(2)(c)(ii)).
  • Veterinary clinics are listed as places that people may attend to obtain necessary goods or services under clause 6(1)(c)(vii). Visits are allowed if there is a genuine animal need (Agriculture Victoria FAQs).
For veterinary practitioners who live in regional Victoria in areas subject to Stage 3 Stay at Home Directions (Non-Melbourne):
  • Persons may leave residential premises to attend work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home (Directions, 8(1)(a) and 8(2)). NOTE that current Workplace Directions state, 'An employer must not permit a worker to perform work at the work premises where it is reasonably practicable for the worker to work at the worker's place of residence or another suitable premises which is not the work premises.'
  • A person can enter a restricted area for work but if they do so they must comply with requirements in directions in force in the restricted area (Directions, (1B)(c) and (1C)).
  • Re mobile veterinary, a veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home to provide necessary goods and services (Directions, clauses 11(1) and 11(2)).
Veterinary practitioners may not go to work in either Stage 3 or 4 areas if:
  • they 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.
  • live in Victoria but work in a State which has imposed a border closure, and do not have a permit to cross the State border or are not otherwise exempt from restrictions on crossing the border. More information: Can I go interstate to treat patients?

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


NOTE  this FAQ will be updated further in the week beginning 19 October 2020.

In Stage 4 areas (Step 3), a veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home to provide necessary goods and services (Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), clause 11(1)). However, the directions also say, 'a person who ordinarily resides in the Restricted Area must not permit another person to enter the premises at which they ordinarily reside, unless it is necessary for the other person to enter the premises for ... work ..., provided that the premises is where the work will take place and such work is urgent and essential…' (clause 11(2)(c)(ii)).

In Stage 3 areas the rules do not restrict work to urgent and essential work. A a veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home to provide necessary goods and services (Stay at Home Directions (Non Melbourne), clauses 11(1) and 11(2)).

In both Stage 3 and 4 areas veterinary practices should follow the requirements in the government's Workplace Directions when providing mobile veterinary services. The Workplace Directions define work premises as ‘the premises of an employer in which work is undertaken, including any vehicle whilst being used for work purposes’… The Workplace Directions include having a COVIDSafe Plan (if the mobile veterinary practice has more than 5 workers) and carrying a Permitted Worker Permit. Make sure to carry your permit with you when travelling, and it may help also to print the list of permitted industries which includes vets, your proof of registration as a vet, the Stay at Home directions (so you can point to the section permitting you to travel to someone’s home), and the Workplace Directions and your COVIDSafe plan (if you need one). If you have all these with you, it should help you to answer any questions if you are stopped en route.

Be sure to take all the preventative measures in the Workplace Directions e.g. face coverings, density quotient, record-keeping. It is necessary to establish with your client whether they have any symptoms, or are in isolation or quarantine, before you make an appointment. And any mobile vet who has symptoms must be treated as a suspected COVID case following the instructions in the Workplace Directions. The Workplace Directions are just the minimum requirements – exercise your professional judgement about any other precautions you might take when making and conducting appointments, e.g. use of PPE.

Re isolating and sick clients, call the coronavirus hotline (1800 675 398) if they say there is no way to treat a sick animal other than attend the premises. 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.

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).

Where government directions prevent you from visiting a person's home, other options 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.

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Can people take their animal to a veterinary clinic under current government directions?


NOTE this FAQ will be updated further in the week beginning 19 October 2020.
Stage 4 restrictions (Step 3) - metropolitan Melbourne:
  • If there is a genuine animal welfare issue: clients can take an animal to the vet (Agriculture Victoria COVID-19 FAQs for animal carers; Stay at Home (Restricted Areas) Directions - "necessary goods or services" clause 6(1)(c)(vii)).
  • Within 25 km and no time limit: clients can travel up to 25 kilometres to obtain veterinary services and there is no time limit on how long they can travel for permitted services.
  • More than one person from a household: under Step 2, there are no restrictions limiting just one person from a household to leaving the premises for necessary goods or services from a veterinary clinic each day, but any person who attends a clinic is limited to one visit only (Stay at Home (Restricted Areas) Directions.
  • Call clinic first: clients should check in with their veterinary clinic ahead of their appointment as clinics are operating with new rules to ensure they meet physical distancing requirements (Agriculture Victoria FAQs).
  • Wear a mask: clients are required to wear a face mask at all times when they leave their premises to visit a vet (Stay at Home (Restricted Areas) Directions - clauses 5(6) and 5(7)).
  • NOT if client sick or isolating: clients who are unwell, in quarantine or in isolation must not leave home and should contact their veterinary practitioner by phone for advice on what to do to ensure their animal gets the care it needs.
Stage 3 restrictions (regional Victoria) - For clients in areas subject to Stage 3 restrictions, the rules are similar but do not include travel restrictions:
  • Clients can take an animal to the vet (Agriculture Victoria FAQsStay at Home Directions (Non Melbourne) - clause 6(1)(c)(vii)).
  • More than one person a day: under Step 3, more than one person from a given residence may leave the premises for necessary goods or services from a veterinary clinic each day, with some exceptions (Stay at Home Directions (Non Melbourne) - clause 5(1B)).
  • Call clinic first: clients should check in with their veterinary clinic ahead of their appointment as clinics are operating with new rules to ensure they meet physical distancing requirements (Agriculture Victoria FAQs).
  • Wear a mask: clients are required to wear a face mask at all times when they leave their premises to visit a vet (Stay at Home Directions (Non Melbourne) - clauses 5(6) and 5(7)).
  • NOT if client sick or isolating: clients who are unwell, in quarantine or in isolation must not leave home and should contact their veterinary practitioner by phone for advice on what to do to ensure their animal gets the care it needs. If you need further advice, contact the Department of Health & Human Services on 1800 961 054.

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How far can a client travel to a veterinary clinic?

Clients in metropolitan Melbourne subject to Stage 4 restrictions can travel up to 25km to obtain veterinary services. 

There are no travel restrictions on clients in regional Victoria subject to Level 3 restrictions unless they want to cross a State of Territory border.

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What services and activities are allowed during Stage 3 and 4 restrictions?


NOTE this FAQ will be updated further in the week beginning 19 October 2020.
For veterinary practices in Stage 4 (Step 2) areas - metropolitan Melbourne:
  • a general veterinary practice can provide veterinary services to clients who bring animals to the vet with a genuine animal welfare need (Agriculture Victoria FAQs for animal carers
  • a veterinary practitioner providing mobile veterinary services can enter a person's home to provide necessary goods and services (Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) - Clause 11(1)). However, the directions also say, 'a person who ordinarily resides in the Restricted Area must not permit another person to enter the premises at which they ordinarily reside, unless it is necessary for the other person to enter the premises for ... work ..., provided that the premises is where the work will take place and such work is urgent and essential…' (Clause 11(2)(c)(ii)). 
For other animal-related occupations in stage 4 (step 3) areas, Agriculture Victoria FAQs and Business Victoria sector guidance say:
  • both retail and mobile dog groomers can operate
  • dog walkers cannot operate
  • pet breeders can deliver pets purchased before 13 August 2020 if they have a Permitted Worker Permit
  • pet boarding services can operate for animals where there is a genuine need and no other options
  • council pounds and shelters can admit strays and surrendered animals and facilitate reclaims and adoptions - all services must be contactless and by appointment only
  • pet rescue, rehoming groups (delivering pets to new homes) and community foster care networks can operate with some limitations
  • wildlife rescue and care networks can operate
Animal owners in Stage 4 (step 3) areas CAN:
  • take an animal to a veterinary clinic within 25k of their home if there is a genuine animal welfare need at any time.
  • buy necessary food and husbandry products from a pet store Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas, clause 6(1)(c)(vii))
  • leave their premises to take their pet out for a toilet break if it is not reasonably practicable for the pet to do so at their premises - the distance travelled and time taken should be no more than is absolutely necessary (Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), clause 7(1)(n))
  • leave their premises, if they own or have responsibilities in relation to an animal, 'to meet obligations to sustain the life and wellbeing of that animal' - the distance travelled and time taken should be no more than is absolutely necessary (Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), clause 7(1)(o)). Examples of such obligations listed in Agriculture Victoria FAQs include:
    • picking up a pet purchased before 13 August 2020 from a pet breeder OR picking up an adopted pet from an animal shelter or pound (by appointment only)
    • collecting a lost pet from the council animal shelter or pound, after first verifying with the Council that the pet is there and arranging how to collect it
    • exercising a horse on their property or a place of agistment with some travel limitations
    • putting their pet in a boarding service where there is a genuine animal welfare need and no other options are available.
Animal owners in Stage 4 (Step 3) areas CANNOT: Stage 3 areas in regional Victoria: For veterinary practices, other animal-related occupations and animal owners in Stage 3 areas, some of the differences from the above information include:
  • there is no advice to only take a pet to a vet if there is a genuine animal welfare issue
  • there are no travel restrictions though people are encouraged to stay close to home
  • there is no curfew
  • pet groomers and boarding facilities can operate.

See Agriculture Victoria FAQs for animal carers and Stay at Home Directions (Non Melbourne) for specific advice and rules.

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What actions do I need to take to minimise the risk of COVID transmission in the workplace?


NOTE this FAQ will be updated further in the week beginning 28 September 2020. 

Victoria's Public Health Commander has issued Workplace Directions '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].

The Workplace Directions require compliance with the Permitted Worker Permit Scheme Directions: Employers covered by this scheme must issue permitted worker permits to relevant employees. An employee must not attend a work premises in the restricted area, or must not attend a work premises outside the restricted area if they live in the restricted area, unless they have been issued with and have in their possession photographic personal identification and a current permitted worker permit issued by a permitted employer to perform a permitted service.

The Workplace Directions set out the preventative measures you must take to reduce the risk of COVID transmission and the actions you must take if there is a suspected or confirmed COVID case at your workplace. Preventative measures include:
  1. Face masks: An employer must take reasonable steps to ensure the worker wears a face covering at all times when working at a work premises. NOTE: face shields on their own do not meet the face covering requirements. The directions say that enforcement of the updated face covering requirements will only take effect from 11:59pm on 11 October 2020. There are some exceptions to the face covering rule in the Workplace Directions. Please refer to the Department of Health and Human Services' guidelines for further information.
  2. COVIDSafe Plan: An employer with a work premises located in the restricted area must for that work premises have in place a COVIDSafe Plan addressing the health and safety issues arising from 2019-nCoV. 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 4.
  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.
  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. Clause 14 of the Workplace Directions contains very specific cleaning rules.
  7. Reducing work across multiple sites: An employer must not require or permit a worker to perform work at more than one work premises of that employer unless it is not practicable to limit a worker to only one work premises. See the Work Directions for further rules.

Responding to suspected or confirmed COVID cases in the workplace: The Work Directions contain very specific rules about what to do if you have a suspected case while they are isolating and waiting on test results. If you are notified of a confirmed COVID case in the workplace, actions you must take 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.

Exercise your professional judgement as to how to implement measures to follow the Work Directions and other government rules and recommendations on minimising the risk of COVID 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:

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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).

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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)

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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:

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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:

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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

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

Physical health: General support:

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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.

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