Victorian eyecare professionals will find out over the next 48 hours whether they can return to routine care and elective surgery as planned this week, as the end date for the circuit-breaker lockdown remains in doubt.
The cluster related to the South Australian hotel quarantine breach grew to 54 on Tuesday 1 June. It came on day five of a seven-day lockdown, which brought a halt to routine eyecare for optometrists, as well as non-urgent elective surgery.
Melbourne ophthalmologist Associate Professor Heather Mack, of Eye Surgery Associates, said at present Category 1 and 2a surgery was continuing and most patients were keeping their surgery and consulting appointments.
“We are not experiencing mass cancellations that happened during the long lockdown in July-August 2020,” she said, noting that an extended lockdown may be announced on Wednesday 2 June.
“We are continuing to practise in a COVID-safe manner, and have not had to increase precautions from those already in place. Any prolonged extension of the lockdown would likely prove more disruptive than we have experienced this week.”
With the original lockdown period set to expire at 11.59pm Thursday 3 June, question marks remain over whether health authorities will be willing to relax any restrictions. It came after Chief Health Officer Mr Brett Sutton said the virus was moving “faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with”, and had been transmitted in settings never seen before. The list of exposure sites in Victoria has grown to more than 350.
Last week, the Victorian Chief Allied Health Officer confirmed optometry practices could continue to provide essential clinical care during the lockdown – where telehealth or virtual care was not possible – but routine care was off limits.
Optometrists could continue to provide click and collect/contactless pickup of glasses and contact lenses.
Optometry Victoria South Australia (OV/SA) stated that essential clinical care was defined as:
- To prevent a significant change/deterioration in functional independence which would result in an escalation of care needs (e.g. an increase in frequency of treatment needed, an increased need for prescription medication due to a significant increase in pain, requirement for specialist input or review, an increase in care needs, and/or a substantial increase to anticipated recovery time associated with a delay in receiving services).
- To provide assessment and diagnostic services to clients/patients whose care have been delayed as a result of previous restrictions, with any further delay likely to result in deterioration in functional independence or adverse health outcomes (including access to diagnostic imaging services or assessment for prescription of assistive equipment and technology).
- To provide services that are essential as part of a broader plan of care with a medical practitioner (e.g. fitting a brace post-surgery).
- To provide services that are part of a conservative management plan to avoid or delay elective surgery (as agreed with treating team).
- To provide services immediately following elective surgery that prevent secondary complications or aid functional recovery (as agreed with treating team).
“Authorities have flagged this new variant as being much more infectious so proper infection control during this period remains of critical importance,” OV/SA CEO Mr Pete Haydon and Optometry Australia (OA) CEO Ms Lyn Brodie said.
Australian optometrists, ophthalmologists and their administrative and ancillary staff, including optical dispensers and students on placement, have all been eligible for vaccinations under Phase 1b of the rollout since 22 March. Those aged 50 years and over will receive the AstraZeneca jab, while those under 50 will be offered the Pfizer vaccine.
‘Well equipped’ for shutdown
ProVision CEO Mr Steven Johnston, whose 450-strong national network includes 163 Victorian practices, said member practices across Australia had been incredibly busy since June 2020, with Victorian optometrists cramming much of that activity into the last seven months due to previous lockdowns.
“So in some ways they will appreciate a temporary slowdown in activity,” he said.
“Our members are well equipped to deal with this new business interruption based on previous experience and I am sure that the wider community will take whatever action is needed to keep each other safe and get back to normal business as soon as we are cleared to do so.”
Specsavers Australia and New Zealand communications director Mr Charles Hornor said it had been a trying time for its Victorian team members.
“While we are looking forward to good news on falling numbers of COVID cases, we are all now so much better prepared to weather the circumstances we find ourselves in,” he said.
“Importantly, from a patient perspective, we are able to continue to look after the urgent and essential eyecare needs of Victorians and our partners and their team members are consequently very focussed on supporting the community in this way.”
OV/SA will continue to liaise with the Victorian Department of Health and provide further updates as information comes to hand. For further COVID-19 clarification or advice, optometrists can contact the OV/SA office on (03) 9652 9100 and firstname.lastname@example.org or OA’s Optometry Advisor Helpdesk on (03) 9668 8500 or at email@example.com.