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PM allows optometrists to remain open

Optometry practices, including those in shopping centres, remain exempt from the latest shut-down of businesses across Australia as the Federal Government works to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the second phase of restrictions on activities, which were further expanded to cover non-essential personal services that involved contact between people. The new measures come into force midnight Wednesday.

“The following now won’t be able to continue: beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours and the same for spa and massage parlours. That excludes health-related services in those areas, physiotherapists, things of that nature, health-related and allied health services,” he said.

The announcement means eyecare providers will be able to remain open for now, however state governments have warned that a stage three shut down is imminent.

Morrison also moved to close down the food courts of shopping centres, but stressed retail premises within malls could remain open. They would be required to adhere to strict social distancing rules introduced last week.

“I want to be very clear. The shopping centres remain open. In each of the retail premises, there will need to be displayed, to assist patrons, how many people can be inside that enclosed area in that shop at any one time,” he said.

“That’s just observing the four square metre rule, I would hope many retail premises were already doing that.”

Shut-down confusion

The measures come after conflicting information from state governments on Sunday sparked concern over whether Australian optometrists could remain open.

Optometry Australia subsequently posted to its website that while it was not clear what services were considered essential, it expected optometry practices would not be able to operate. It advised practices in Victoria, NSW and ACT to prepare to shut-down from Tuesday.

On Monday, however, OA provided more clarity on the matter and said all state governments have now agreed to align with Federal Government’s advice on the range of businesses to be included in this week’s shutdown.

“There has been significant, conflicting advice from the Australian and state governments in the last 24 hours about what constitutes ‘non-essential services’, but we have now had confirmation from the Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, that optometry practices can currently remain open (if they wish),” OA said in an alert to members.

“We expect there may be further announcements that may impact optometry in coming days and weeks and hope to have positive news in the near future about telehealth and Medicare opportunities for optometry.

“We believe we have a duty to support you to protect the health of your colleagues, patients and communities. To this end we are seeking to advise governments on how time-sensitive and emergency optometric care can continue to be provided, should more extensive service shut-downs be mandated by governments in order to limit the further spread of COVID-19.”

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