The past few weeks have been a tumultuous time for Australians, as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread around the globe, eventually being announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.
University of Newcastle Students are now studying from home – some have lost work; others are balancing their course loads with caring for sick relatives or home-schooling children. It is important to note that amid all the chaos, support services are available.
The Australian Government has announced a range of financial support packages available through Centrelink.
Anyone who receives the following allowances will automatically receive an additional $550 a fortnight – the Coronavirus Supplement – on top of their regular payment:
- Youth Allowance for students and apprentices
- Youth Allowance for job seekers
- Austudy for students and apprentices
- ABSTUDY for students getting Living Allowance
The full list of eligible allowances can be found here. The Coronavirus Supplement will be paid out from 27 April.
If you are not currently receiving Centrelink
The Government is also expanding access to JobSeeker Payments and Youth Allowance for Job Seekers. Asset testing will be waived for 6 months from now on however income testing will still apply. You are likely eligible for this support if you:
- Are a permanent employee who has lost your job or been stood down
- Are a sole trader, self-employed, a casual or contract worker whose income has reduced
- Are caring for someone who’s affected by the coronavirus
It is important to note that you cannot access these payments if you are accessing employment entitlements such as annual leave, sick leave or income protection insurance. You must wait until you have exhausted those entitlements before you can access JobSeeker or Youth Allowance for Job Seeker payments.
How to apply for Centrelink
There is a new, streamlined process in place to lodge a claim. This involves you registering an intention to claim online and waiting for a Centrelink officer to contact you to conduct identity checks and move the process forward.
The important thing to note is that you do not need to line up in person at Centrelink offices. This is a threat to your health and the health of others.
Instead, see here for the steps to register an intention to claim online.
As the myGov website has been experiencing issues with crashing and slowing down due to heavy demand, it might be a good idea to log on outside of peak periods. If you can, get up early or stay up late to access the site.
Financial Counselling is available through the MoneySmart and Financial Counselling Australia. Counsellors can give you advice tailored to your situation, for example suggesting suitable repayment plans for bills or helping you fill out a Centrelink application.
Financial support and student loans of up to $2000 are available for some students. It’s worth checking if you are eligible for Financial Support.
Novel coronavirus health information
Given the global nature of the pandemic and the (arguably jarring) messaging coming from different jurisdictions, it can be hard to separate COVID-19 facts from fiction.
To access reliable health information, you should go to:
- World Health Organisation for global statistics on how the virus is spreading, latest press conferences from the WHO Director-General and some important mythbusters to eliminate any misinformation you might have seen spreading on socials.
- NSW Government for guidelines on social distancing vs self-isolation, information on what is closed vs what remains open and a table comparing the symptoms of cold, flu and COVID-19
- Hunter New England Health and Central Coast Local Health District
- To watch press conferences from the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier, go to the ABC’s Facebook page, or watch on free-to-air television on the ABC or major networks Nine, WIN and Seven
- National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800-020-080 for general information 24/7
- If you are displaying symptoms call your GP or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Do not attend your GP without first ringing ahead and discussing your symptoms.
- The symptoms to watch out for are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Visit the healthdirect COVID-19 symptom checker for more info.
- The best way to protect yourself – and the community – is to wash your hands with soap thoroughly and frequently, and socially distance. Stay home if you feel unwell and you MUST remain in self isolation for 14 days if you have returned from overseas
- It is likely that your usual GP’s office will become swamped over coming months as the pandemic plays out. Students should be aware that the University has its own Medical Centres on the Callaghan and Ourimbah campuses which may be a good port of call for any non-COVID related health concerns. Sessions are bulk billed – click here for more info. The Callaghan pharmacy also remains open. Stay up to date with which services are open on our campuses here.
- In such tumultuous times, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, frightened or anxious and any other feelings in between. If you are struggling to cope, please reach out to the Counselling Service. Confidential sessions with a qualified counsellor are now available online. Call (02) 49 21 6622 or book through the website.If you find yourself in a mental crisis after hours, you can call the University Crisis Support Line on 1300 653 007 or text 0488 863 216.
- Adverse Circumstances – compulsory attendance requirements have been relaxed this semester and it is NOT necessary to submit an Adverse Circumstances claim for missed classes, unless you cannot attend more than 80% of those sessions.
However, the policy remains in place for adversities affecting your ability to complete assessments. The relevant form can be found here or via myUNI.