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Information for volunteers concerned about novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Information for volunteers concerned about novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Volunteering Queensland is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve heard from volunteers that they are increasingly concerned about the spread of the rapidly evolving COVID-19. Some of the questions we’re hearing are:

  • Should I continue volunteering at this time?
  • When should I not volunteer?
  • Can I volunteer from home?
  • How can I help with the COVID-19 response?
  • Citizen Self-activation/ Community Helpers
  • Centrelink-approved volunteering activities - has COVID-19 changed by obligations?

This article is intended to answer your questions, offering recommendations to keep you safe and pathways for you to still to be involved in your community during these unsettling times.


We’ll keep this information up to date. This page was last updated on 8 April 2020. 


What is novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. It was discovered in late 2019 when a higher than normal number of people in Wuhan, China, started to get pneumonia after having an illness similar to the flu. Some people have recovered easily, while others can get sick very quickly or experience severe symptoms and complications.

It has since spread to more than 200 countries with more than 1,270,000 confirmed cases. The impact on Australia is growing, with more than 5,800 people diagnosed with the condition. The spread of COVID-19 is expected to increase and peak over the coming weeks, and likely last to some level until the end of the year.

Australia is well prepared and well equipped to deal with the pandemic. We have a first-class health system that includes mechanisms for early detection and effective management of cases. To read what the Australian Government is doing to minimise transmission and mitigate the impact, please visit the Department of Health website.


What are the symptoms of novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, which means it affects the parts of your body you use to breathe: your nose, throat and lungs. If you’re sick with COVID-19, your symptoms might include:

  • Fever
  • A cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath.

If you are worried about symptoms, please call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and visit the Queensland Health website for more information.


What’s the best way you can prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?

  • Keep your hands clean:
    • Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds means that you can prevent viruses from entering your body. That means washing your hands when you’ve been out and about, before you eat, and after you use the restroom. View 6 steps to successful everyday hand washing.
    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available. Remember to wash your hands as soon as you have access to soap and water.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Maintain a social distance:
    • Try to stay at least 1.5 metres away from people, and refrain from physical touch such as shaking hands or hugging.
    • Avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms such as fever, a cough, sore throat, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
  • Practice good respiratory etiquette:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard tissue immediately into a closed bin, and wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Only use a surgical mask if needed:
    • Surgical masks are only helpful if you have COVID-19 symptoms to prevent it spreading to others. If you're well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. Please note: If you are a person who touches their face often, you may consider wearing a mask as a barrier to touching.
  • Keep your environment clean:
    • Viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home and work environment.
  • Keep your doctor informed:
    • If you are unwell with COVID-19 symptoms, call ahead of time to book a doctor’s appointment. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
  • Self-isolate when required:
    • Stay home if you are unwell. Do not attend work, volunteering, events, or meetings.
    • You should self-isolate for 14 days if you have travelled overseas, and are now also required to self-isolate if you travel interstate to a number of Australian States and Territories. You should also self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Please visit the Queensland Health website and follow their latest advice.
  • Look after your health and well-being:
    • Looking after your personal physical and mental health and well-being by eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting regular physical activity, sleeping well and reducing stress is important at this and all times.

Should I continue volunteering at this time?

As a volunteer, you are under no obligation to continue to volunteer if you are concerned or do not feel comfortable or safe doing so. Please advise the organisation you volunteer with if you would prefer not to volunteer at this time. There may be alternative opportunities available to volunteer online or remotely from your home or another location.

If you do continue in your volunteering role, the organisation you volunteer with has an obligation under Work Health and Safety legislation to provide adequate health and safety protection. To read what we’re advising organisations to do to protect the well-being of their volunteers, view our blog. You may wish to have a conversation with your volunteer organisation around any concerns you have and about alternative ways to volunteer and stay engaged with the organisation and its cause.  


When should I not volunteer?

Your safety and well-being and limiting the spread of COVID-19 is our main priority. You should not volunteer if you:

  • Have travelled or have been in contact with someone who has recently travelled overseas or interstate.
  • Have been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
  • Are unwell or have an acute respiratory infection (cold/ flu, sinus, etc).

Can I volunteer from home?

With COVID-19 changing the way we connect with others in the community, some volunteering roles will need to change for the foreseeable future.

If you would like to experience and contribute as a virtual volunteer, there are a range of opportunities available where you can volunteer from home to stay connected and reduce the isolation of vulnerable people or assist with the ongoing needs of a range of important causes.

You can search our website to view all virtual volunteering roles available in Queensland. Here’s an idea of what’s currently on offer:

Please note we are liaising with our members to update positions they have available on our website in response to changing needs of organisations due to COVID-19. We expect you’ll see more virtual volunteering opportunities become available in the coming weeks.


How can I help with the COVID-19 response?

We are receiving many enquiries from volunteers who are keen to do whatever they can to help with the COVID-19 response.

We have also seen volunteer-involving organisations acknowledge a growing need to safely support people in isolation or experiencing disadvantage. This includes, delivering meals, groceries and much-needed supplies to doorsteps, or additional phone calls and online socialising services.  However, at this time of unprecedented crisis, many are limiting their services due to being overwhelmed by the need to manage health and safety risks to their volunteers and paid staff as well as the vulnerable people they serve. They may not yet be ready to accept your offers of help, so we ask for your patience and understanding.  

You can search our website to explore all available roles. You may also like to create your own personal volunteer profile, which will see volunteers roles of interest come to you. 

When applying for a role please ensure that you check with the organisation to ensure they have protocols in place regarding volunteer safety and well-being during COVID-19. It’s important you understand the risks of volunteering.

Please be aware that although the existing volunteer insurance of a volunteer-involving organisation applies to their volunteer roles, there is no insurance cover if you contract COVID-19 or experience any illness directly related to COVID-19. This also applies to paid staff within an organisation. The reason for this is that there is no way of categorically proving where COVID-19 was originally contracted.   

Join the Care Army

You may also like to register your expression of interest to help join the Queensland Government's Care Army, made up of Queenslanders who want to assist older people living in our community who may not have friends, family or neighbours who are able to support them during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The primary focus of the Care Army is social connection and essential services such as the delivery of groceries and medicines for Queensland’s seniors. This could be achieved through phone calls or video chats to check on the wellbeing of older and vulnerable Queenslanders and help reduce the impacts of social isolation. It could also involve the non-contact delivery of food, medication and essential items, driving older people to appointments, mowing lawns, or similar chores. The safety and health of Care Army volunteers and the safety, health and privacy of those they assist is of primary importance. Community organisations that the Care Army volunteers with are asked to ensure all necessary screenings, briefings and PPE are in place.

You can join the Care Army through Volunteering Queensland’s Emergency Volunteering website (EV CREW) – emergencyvolunteering.com.au/qld. We will then contact you when requests for volunteer assistance are received.


Citizen Self-activation/ Community Helpers

Many people are also volunteering informally in their local community supporting people who may be in need, isolated, or experiencing vulnerabilities in myriad ways including connecting with them via a phone call, a closed window, a letterbox drop, or a Facebook group to let them know that assistance is available with shopping for supplies or by lending a friendly ear for a chat.

These fine expressions of care and kindness at a local level can make a real difference and are commended at this uncertain time. They can also be a coordinated or uncoordinated spontaneous well-meaning desire to help. If you are considering this type of informal volunteering, please be mindful of privacy, safety and the care and well-being of both yourself and the person you are helping, and always adhere to the principle of ‘do no harm’.

Volunteering Queensland is here to provide advice and guidance if required.


Centrelink-approved volunteering activities – has COVID-19 changed my obligations?

The Government has announced a number of changes to mutual obligation requirements for job seekers to reduce or eliminate the need for face-to-face contact, when requested by a job seeker or job service provider. The changes include Work for the Dole and other activities delivered in group settings that cannot be delivered online will be suspended until further notice. For more information and updates on changes affecting Services Australia participants, see their website.


How are we responding at Volunteering Queensland?

The team at Volunteering Queensland are watching the situation closely as it unfolds and taking every precaution. We are:

  • Regularly participating in meetings with Queensland Health and the Queensland Government to ensure a coordinated response and consistent messaging for our sector.
  • Working closely with Volunteering Australia and the network of State and Territory Volunteering Peak Bodies to share and best support one another through this pandemic.
  • Utilising our Emergency Volunteering service (EV CREW) to support the Queensland Government's Care Army initiative. The Care Army is made up of everyday Queenslanders who want to help older people living in the community who may not have friends, family or neighbours who are able to support them during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Updating our business continuity plan, and considering our options for essential service delivery, the impact on our programs and events.
  • Cancelling face to face contact, training, non-essential meetings and events and putting in place alternative methods of contact and service delivery.
  • The majority of our team are working remotely, using systems best placed to support them, volunteers and our sector.
  • Promoting good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distance.

Our thoughts are with volunteers everywhere. You have our care and concern and we will endeavor to keep you informed and engaged. We can only support each other through this difficult time. We believe that together we will get through this and once we do, we will need your helping hands and hearts to rebuild Queensland’s amazing volunteer workforce.  

We will be communicating updates as further information becomes available.


Stay safe and informed

We encourage you to listen to respected sources and those in authority and to continue to follow trusted health and safety guidelines:

 

Volunteering Queensland thanks Volunteering Australia and all the State and Territory Volunteering Peak Bodies for sharing their information to help guide this blog post.