COVID-19: online safety tips to help older Australians with social distancing

As the situation in Australia regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) evolves, we offer you, and your loved ones, some tips on how to get advice, shop online and stay connected.

If you are limiting face-to-face contact, self-isolating or in quarantine, it's important to make sure you can access reliable information, stay connected with friends and family and order what you need online. In this article:

How to monitor the situation

You may have heard a lot about the new virus known as COVID-19 in the news or online. It's easy to get caught up in the uncertainty and fear, but it's important to keep up-to-date with information and advice provided by reliable sources, including the official Australian Government guidance. This information is regularly updated and based on the best possible advice as the situation changes.

For key advice and information on the coronavirus in Australia, visit the Department of Health website.

For the latest updates, including advice on the number of cases in each state and territory, read the Department of Health’s coronavirus news alert.

You can also get advice on the situation in your state or territory:

If you are unsure about what to do, call the Coronavirus Information Line on 1800 020 080.

How to stay connected online

Although it may be necessary for you to physically isolate yourself from other people during the coronavirus outbreak, it's vital to stay in touch with friends and family.

You can make video calls, send typed or instant messages and share photos and written updates with your friends on social media services. Being in touch with friends and family will help you to stay connected and feel less isolated.

You might like to set up a regular time to video call or send messages to one another throughout the day.

Learn more about how to:

Online shopping tips and advice

If you are self-isolating, in quarantine or your mobility is restricted for other reasons, shopping at online supermarkets and pharmacies can help to ensure you have the supplies you need.

If you are self-isolating or in quarantine, you can add delivery instructions to your order asking for your goods to be left outside, not handed over in person.

Shop on secure Australian websites

It's a good idea to shop with brands and established stores you know and recognise, who use secure websites.

What to look for:

  • A secure website will have ‘https://’ in the website's address, and sometimes a locked padlock icon in the browser address bar. This means your data and payment details will be encrypted (sent using a secret code).
  • A website address or domain that ends in lets you know the website is linked to an Australian business.
  • Check the website lists an Australian Company Number or an Australian Business Number. You can also look up the ACN or ABN on the Australian Business Register.
  • Check the store has a working telephone number.
  • Check online reviews by typing the name of the store and ‘reviews’ into a search engine to see if other customers have had a good experience or ask friends which online stores they have used.
  • If possible, use PayPal or a credit card to pay for your goods on a secure website.
  • For more information, watch one of our free online safety presentations on shopping and banking.

Buying groceries and food online

Online supermarkets
The two largest supermarket chains in Australia, Coles and Woolworths, have online stores which you can access via desktop or laptop computers. You can also shop from your phone with their apps. There may also be other stores in your area that deliver locally. You can usually buy everything they sell in their bricks-and-mortar stores and have it delivered to your house. You may also be able to choose a ‘click and collect’ option, which allows you to pick up the groceries at the supermarket without having to do the actual shopping in the aisles. As demand increases, online supermarkets may, at times, restrict online deliveries.

Online fresh produce
There are many fruit and vegetable delivery services which bypass the main online supermarkets. Search online for one that delivers near you. You will not be able to choose exactly which broccoli floret you want, nor its size. While online stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables will give you an estimate of how much a zucchini weighs, for instance, the reality is that they may vary in size considerably. This goes for online supermarkets as well, so be aware that when you buy fresh produce online you may end up with slightly more or less than you intended.

Online meal and food delivery services
There are many meal delivery services, such as Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon, which offer weekly subscriptions to deliver a set number of recipe cards and the food needed to prepare each meal. Restaurant delivery services, such as Deliveroo, Menulog and Uber Eats, pick up and deliver prepared food from restaurants near you. Restaurants in your local area may also offer their own delivery service.

Delivery windows, speed and costs
With increased demand and pressure on delivery services, it’s important to plan ahead if you are shopping online. Typically, restaurant meals are delivered within about an hour, but they may take far longer at peak times. For groceries, same day or next day deliveries may not be available or could cost extra money.

The cost of your delivery can depend on:

  • Timing — how soon you want your shopping delivered.
  • Delivery windows — the size of your delivery window. For instance, you might be able to specify that you want your food to be delivered between 8am and 12pm or 12pm and 8pm. The larger delivery window may be cheaper.
  • The size of your order — some retailers will encourage bigger orders by offering free delivery if you spend more.

If there are no delivery windows available the supermarket may prompt you to choose a ‘click and collect’ option, which means you can pick up your groceries without having to shop for them in the aisle.

What to watch out for when shopping for online groceries and food

  • Substitutions — larger online supermarkets allow you to select a ‘substitute’ option when placing your order. This means that if they are out of stock, they will replace it with something similar. Customers sometimes find this frustrating as it may result in unwanted goods, especially if you have specific dietary requirements.
  • Longer waits for delivery — with increased demand, it may be necessary to place orders much earlier than you think you need to. Some supermarkets now allow people to place orders up to 14 days in advance.
  • Delivery details — remember to double check the delivery address and instructions you have given, as well as your delivery window.
  • A quicker shop — the first time you order it may take a long time to find and add all the products you want to your online shopping cart. However, if you create an online account with the store, you may be able to save your shopping list to make it quicker the next time you shop. Another tip is to search for each item you want using specific search terms, such as ‘Lite milk 1 litre’ rather than just ‘milk’.

Buying medicine online from pharmacies

If you are self-isolating or in quarantine, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a supply of any medicines, including prescription medicines, you may need.

Buying medicine online and getting it delivered to your home is very convenient. However, in order to buy prescription medicine from a pharmacy or chemist, a pharmacist will have to see your prescription.

In practice, this means you need to mail your prescription to the online pharmacy. Many online pharmacies in Australia will only dispense prescription medicine once they receive the original prescription written by an Australian registered medical practitioner. This means that if you need the medicine urgently, online delivery may not be fast enough.

Alternatively, your doctor may be able to fax or email a prescription to the online pharmacy for you.

What to watch out for when buying medicine from online pharmacies

  • Side effects — when you buy medicine online, you may not be able to ask a pharmacist about potential side-effects or interactions with any other medications you may be taking. A reputable online pharmacy will provide a phone number you can call to speak to a pharmacist, however this may be for limited hours.
  • Prescriptions — some items require prescriptions when you purchase them online even though you can buy them over the counter in a bricks-and-mortar pharmacy. This is because some medicines require personal counselling by the pharmacist on the sale of the item, which cannot be offered easily via an online store. However, if the website provides a phone number you may be able to talk to a pharmacist and avoid having to provide a prescription.
  • Medicine that needs refrigeration — many online pharmacies cannot deliver medicine which needs to be refrigerated.
  • Delivery times — demand for online deliveries is increasing, so it’s important to order ahead. This is a limitation of online pharmacies if you require a medicine urgently. If you live in a remote or regional location, some online pharmacies can take up to 12 days to deliver from the time of your order.
  • Make sure the pharmacy is Australian — online pharmacies located overseas are not regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This means they may sell products, even non-prescription products, which do not meet Australian quality and safety standards. Even medicines which are the same brand may have different ingredients or be formulated at differing strengths in different countries.

Signs that an online pharmacy may not be legitimate:

  • It does not require a mailed prescription before sending you prescription medicine.
  • It does not provide a contact for you to talk with a pharmacist.
  • It does not display different prices for medicines, depending on the prescription you have or other entitlements you may have under the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

A note on scams

At times like this, it's important to be aware that scams may grow rapidly. Dishonest people may try to exploit your fear or appeal to your generosity for their own gain. Scams can look and sound very real, but the more you know about them, the easier they are to spot. For more information, read eSafety’s advice on online scams and identity theft or go to Scamwatch for the latest scams news and alerts.

Need help with the basics and beyond?

If you are just starting out on the internet or already finding information, socialising and shopping using your computer or phone, we can help you learn new online skills. Visit our topic library to get help and support that is right for you.

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This blogpost was first published on the Be Connected website, an Australian government initiative developed by eSafety and the Department of Social Services to increase the confidence, skills and online safety of older Australians.