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There are currently 24 ADF personnel providing support staff in Australian aged care homes. Picture: Supplied.

Parliament to kick off reform as ADF support extended

Aged care reform will be a top priority of Australia's new parliament as the government extends military support for over a thousand residential homes battling Covid-19 outbreaks.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese is set to unveil two major pieces of aged care legislation to the 47th parliament this week.

This includes a bill to mandate 24/7 nurses inside residential homes from July 1 next year and new measures to monitor and regulate the costs of aged care.

“Cleaning up 10 years of mess … will take more than 10 weeks but these are important first steps towards fixing aged care,” the prime minister said last week. 

This comes as the federal government extended Australian Defence Force support amid an ongoing Covid-19 surge across the nation.

Up to 250 extra military personnel could be deployed to assist struggling facilities until the end of September, in addition to clinician-led teams, according to defence minister Richard Marles.

There are currently over 1,000 active outbreaks of Covid-19 in residential aged care homes, up from 918 reported last week.

As of July 22, around 6000 residents and close to 3500 staff have contracted the virus.

While ADF deployment was an "extreme measure" a key priority will be ensuring aged care homes have capacity to ongoing staff shortages, said aged care minister Anika Wells.

“We need to protect our most vulnerable during this winter wave, and support from the ADF until September 30 will help buttress the workforce crisis we have seen in the past," Wells said.

Australia’s chief medical officer warned providers should prepare for an increasing likelihood of outbreaks in the coming months.

Professor Michael Kidd urged providers to make arrangements with GPs to ensure their clients have access to antivirals if they test positive.

“Anyone aged 70 and above, if they test positive on a rapid antigen test or PCR test regardless of symptoms is eligible to immediately receive oral therapy,” Kidd said.

“It’s very important these antiviral treatments are started as quickly as possible, ideally on the day that somebody tested positive.”

In a bid to curb growing hospitalisation rates, the government expanded access to Covid-19 oral antiviral medication for people aged over 70 earlier this month.

Access has also been expanded for people aged over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease.

The drugs are most effective when taken within five days of symptoms developing and are most potent when taken before an individual falls unwell.

Around 76 per cent of eligible aged care residents have received a fourth dose, according to the government, up from 52 per cent at the beginning of July. 

Providers have also been asked to publish residents' vaccination rates online beginning August 1.

As of July 24, NSW recorded 14 deaths and 12,820 new Covid-19 cases.

There are 2,260 people in hospital across the state including 14 in the ICU.

Victoria recorded 12 deaths and 9,501 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday. Queensland reported no deaths and 5,804 new cases, including 1,042 people in hospital.

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