COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain of a common virus and we are still learning how it works. It causes mild respiratory symptoms for most patients, particularly those aged less than 50 but can be more severe in older people or those with chronic medical problems (heart disease, lung disease and diabetes in particular).

What groups are most at risk from COVID-19?

It is still not known for sure which groups are most at risk of complications (ie more likely to be very unwell) if they catch COVID-19, but it is likely you are more at risk if you catch the virus and:
You are 65 years of age and over
You have medical conditions – for example heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or liver disease.

Is it still ok to travel?

We recommend that you do to travel outside of Australia at present. International travel increases your risk of infection with COVID-19.

The risk of domestic air travel is not fully understood but is likely to increase the risk of infection given the close confines and recirculated air on aircrafts. I would recommend re-considering all non-urgent domestic travel at the current time.

Should I take public transport?

It is recommended to avoid public transport at busy times and other crowded situations in order to limit close contact with others.

Steps that can be taken to reduce infection from COVID-19 (and other similar infections such as flu) include:
Regular and thorough hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand washes when in contact with other people, before eating or touching your face, after using the bathroom or upon entering the home.
Always practice good respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing, discarding used tissues immediately into a closed bin, and cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands as this can transfer the virus from surfaces.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Maintain social distancing outside of the home environment by leaving at least a one metre distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing or who have a fever.
Being cautious around public travel, public events or larger gatherings which might bring you into contact with more people who may be at higher risk of carrying infection.
Ensuring that visitors are aware that those affected by immunosuppressive treatment are particularly susceptible to infection, and kindly requesting them not to visit if they are displaying any symptoms of illness such as high temperature, coughing, sneezing, headache, etc.
Limiting direct contact with people who have travelled outside of Australia in the past 14 days.
Don’t wear a face mask if you are well.
Get the flu shot (available April). This won’t protect you from COVID-19, but it will reduce your risk of getting flu.

What Services are Available for You at East Melbourne Gastroenterology

Office hours

The office can accept phone calls between 9-5pm (Monday- Friday) for appointments or any other matters related to the practice. If you find that the office is unattended or dealing with other calls during this time, please leave a voice message stating clearly your name and contact phone number for us to return your call. Please note, you will not be able to leave a phone message outside these hours. Alternatively, you can email your request at any time to: info@eastmelbournegastroenterology.com.au and we will return your call.

Face to face appointments

Our office will continue to provide limited face to face appointments with Drs Connell, Wright and Ding for patients with urgent or semi-urgent gastrointestinal concerns only.

These services:
a. require an up to date referral from your GP or specialist. You can check with our office if any past referrals you have are still valid.
b. Will attract the usual consulting fee that is payable on the day of the appointment and are not usually bulk billed.
c. Our office will not be able to provide face to face appointments with patients who have acute respiratory symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat), or those with suspected or known COVID-19.

Telehealth or phone appointments

We are restricting the need for patients to physically attend the consulting rooms for less urgent medical consultations or routine check-ups. Instead, we can provide telehealth or phone services for new patients and patients who have previously attended the practice. If you already have a pre-existing face to face appointment, you may be contacted by our office to re-schedule this to a telehealth or phone appointment. You can also call our office to request these appointments during office hours.

These appointments can be bulk billed if you meet certain requirements such as being in a remote or regional area, in quarantine or being at increased risk of COVID-19 infection (Anyone over the age of 70, those with chronic disease including inflammatory bowel disease and those who are immunosuppressed or pregnant). Otherwise there will be an out of pocket fee for telehealth and phone consultations (similar to the fees for face to face consultations). An up to date referral from your GP or specialist is required for all consultations.

If you wish to have a telehealth (rather than phone) consultation please check with our reception staff about the options for this which include Skype (you will need to provide us with your Skype username) or FaceTime (if you have an iphone or other apple device).


In keeping with expert national and international advice, most hospitals are temporarily suspending non-essential endoscopy services. We will continue to provide endoscopy (gastroscopy and colonoscopy) services for our patients but non-essential and elective procedures will be deferred. We are happy to discuss this on a patient by patient basis. If you are booked to have a gastroscopy/colonoscopy in the next few weeks it may need to be deferred until a later date. Our office will contact you about these details.

If you are not feeling well

If within the past 14 days you have travelled to any country outside Australia - or in contact with a person known to have COVID-19, be alert for the symptoms. These are: fever (high temperature), coughing or difficulty breathing. If you do have these symptoms please DO NOT ATTEND OUR ROOMS FOR REVIEW, instead phone the National hotline 1800 020 080 without delay or The St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department 92312211 for advice. Avoid contact with other people by self-isolating until you receive advice from a doctor.

If you are feeling well

If you are feeling well follow the advice on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other infections such as flu. Avoid spending time with people who are ill with a cough, high temperature, or breathing problems. For up to date advice on COVID-19 visit https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus

Out of hours emergencies

You can contact Dr Connell on 93971000, or Drs Wright and Ding at St Vincent’s Hospital switchboard 9231 2211. Please understand, this should only be considered for urgent out of hours purposes.

Information on Immunosuppressive and Biologic Treatments for Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Will my IBD treatment increase the risk of contracting COVID-19?

Certain drugs including immunomodulators (azathioprine, mercaptopurine or methotrexate) and biologic drugs (infliximab, adalimumab, vedolizumab, ustekinumab and tofacitinib) may affect your immune system and make it less able to prevent or resist infection. Not all treatments affect your immune function in the same way.

If an immune compromised patient is exposed to COVID-19 they may be at increased risk of becoming infected, although this has not yet been clearly shown.

Advanced age remains by far the biggest risk factor for severe illness as a result of COVID-19 infection. The symptoms of COVID-19 can be very mild in many people below the age of 50 who are infected. However, immunosuppressive treatment may mean that a patient is more likely to develop a serious complication of infection; for example pneumonia. The risk of catching COVID-19 in Australia remains low to moderate, but this may change in future.

Should I stop my treatment?

No, it is important that you continue on your treatment as prescribed unless specifically advised by your treating gastroenterologist.

What if you are immunosuppressed due to treatment and develop symptoms?

The symptoms of this virus include fever, sore throat, cough and breathing difficulties. It is sometimes like the common cold or flu. At present if you have not been in contact with someone who has travelled overseas or with someone who has a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, or attended a health centre/hospital where patients with COVID-19 were being treated, then you are considered not at high risk of having the virus. If you have symptoms that you are worried about phone your treating doctor or contact the St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department who will direct you to the hospital’s fever clinic.

Yes, if you receive infusion based treatment at the hospital you should continue to attend for your scheduled medical care unless advised by your hospital not to do so. It’s very natural to have concerns when you're being treated for a serious illness. If you are concerned please contact the rooms and your doctor can contact you via phone.

Please note the information on this page is for general guidance. All of the detail is derived from national and international guidance, and is subject to change as information is being updated rapidly. The information is not intended to replace the individual support of a medical professional.