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 14 AUGUST 2020: Escalated restrictions in Victoria

Veterinary practices are permitted workplaces: 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'. Further, under Stage 4 restrictions applying to agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, '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 and employees have Permitted Worker Permits if required.

Can clients take their pets to vets, how far can they travel, and when? Agriculture Victoria's FAQs for animal carers say that clients in areas subject to Level 4 restrictions can take an animal to the vet if there is a genuine animal welfare issue (for clients in areas subject to Level 3 restrictions, the advice is similar but does not include 5km or curfew restrictions):
  • clients should stay close to home where possible, but may travel beyond 5km to the nearest provider
  • during curfew hours (8pm-5am), clients may only leave home to seek emergency veterinary care for their animal
  • 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. Clients are required to wear a face covering. 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.

What services can pet owners obtain? See Agriculture Victoria's FAQs for animal carers more information on pet stores, pet groomers, pet boarding facilities, picking up new pets, going to animal shelters or pounds, or exercising horses.

Workplace Directions: 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 rules in the WorkPlace Directions cover operation of a work premises; preventative measures to reduce the risk of COVID; and responding to suspected and confirmed COVID cases in a work premises. The rules on preventative measures cover: face coverings, COVIDSafe Plan, record-keeping obligations, density quotient (i.e. physical distancing), signage, cleaning, and reducing work across multiple sites.

COVIDSafe Plan: The Workplace Directions require employers with workplaces located in the Restricted Area (currently greater Melbourne) with 5 or more employees to have a COVIDSafe Plan which covers safety, prevention, and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace.

Permitted Worker Permits: To attend a work premises in the restricted area (or outside the restricted area if they live in the restricted area), employees must have in their possession photographic personal identification and a current permitted worker permit issued by a permitted employer to perform a permitted service. See rules in the Permitted Worker Permit Scheme Directions issued by Public Health Commander (link below).

References:

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

Physical health: General support:

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

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

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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.' (Sent to Australian Veterinary Association 27 March 2020).

In addition:
  • the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment states, ‘To slow the outbreak, Australia has introduced restrictions on non-essential gatherings and businesses. Essential services will continue. This includes farming, forestry, fibre production, food and beverage production, agriculture saleyards and auctions. Also exempt are those who support these businesses.’
  • under the business and industry Stage 4 restrictions applying to greater Melbourne, 'services connected with animal health, husbandry or welfare, including the RSPCA, are Permitted Work Premises'.
  • under the Stage 4 restrictions on agriculture, forestry and fishing industries in greater 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.
  • 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, under Stage 4 restrictions in greater Melbourne there may be restrictions on when and how far a person can travel to obtain necessary goods and services.

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

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'. Further, under Stage 4 restrictions applying to agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, '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 and employees have Permitted Worker Permits if required. 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 Stage 4 Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), i.e. greater Melbourne:
  • 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).
  • NOTE that current Work 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.'
For veterinary practitioners who live in areas subject to Stage 3 Stay at Home Directions (Non-Melbourne):
  • Clauses (1B)(c) and (1C) of the current directions indicate that 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.
  • Clauses 8(1)(a) and 8(2) of the current directions allow persons to leave residential premises to attend work where it is not reasonably practicable to work from home.
  • NOTE that current Work 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.'
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?

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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 in greater Melbourne subject to Stage 4 Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas), 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 Stage 3 Stay at Home Directions (Non-Melbourne), they may visit a veterinary practice per clause 6(1)(c)(vii). They are also permitted to visit a practice in a restricted area as per clause (1B)(a), but only one person from a residence once a day with some exceptions.
  • 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. 

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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?

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 coverings: An employer must take reasonable steps to ensure the worker wears a face covering at all times when working at a work premises. A face covering 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. Please refer to the Department of Health and Human Services' guidelines for further information. There are some exceptions to the face covering rule in the Workplace Directions.
  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 permitte din 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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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.

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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?

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).

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.

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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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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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