Antenatal care and COVID-19

On 25 January 2020, Australia recorded its first cases of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) disease 2019 (COVID-19). As the number of cases increased, physical distancing, restrictions on activities and businesses, and border closures were implemented to slow the spread of the virus (Grattan Institute 2020). Figure 1 provides an overview of some key Australian COVID-19 events.

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians were urged to stay at home where possible to reduce the risk of transmission. While pregnant women are not listed by the Australian Government Department of Health as a medium or high risk group for COVID-19 (DoH 2020), RANZCOG consider pregnant women a vulnerable group, and advised pregnant women take precautions and follow government guidance on physical distancing and hygiene measures (RANZCOG 2020).

Shutdowns and service disruptions during this period may have affected the ability of pregnant women to attend face-to-face antenatal care visits. Additionally, because of personal safety concerns, women may have opted not to attend face-to-face appointments, as health advice encouraged avoiding public spaces except for the essential purposes (RANZCOG 2020; RCOG 2020). On 13 March 2020, the Australian Government added services to the MBS to cover antenatal services delivered via telehealth (DoH 2020b). 

A global perspective

International reporting raised concerns that COVID-19 and associated service disruptions could contribute to changes in pregnancy outcomes, including change to stillbirth and pre-term birth rates, and risks to mothers’ wellbeing (Casadio et al. 2020;  CDC 2020; KC et al. 2020; Khalil 2020; Kumari et al. 2020; UNICEF et al. 2020; RCOG 2020; WHO 2020). However, other international investigations reported COVID-19 mitigation measures may have assisted in managing potential adverse pregnancy outcomes such as reduced preterm rates (Been et al. 2020; Hedermann et al. in press; Phillip et al. in press). These reports demonstrate the complex effects of COVID-19 and associated response efforts on mothers and babies. 

The impacts of COVID-19 on outcomes for Australian mothers and babies is currently unknown, and will be explored in the future once data is available through the National Perinatal Data Collection.

Figure 1: Key COVID-19 dates

This figure provides a short overview of key dates relating to the Australian response to the COVID-19 pandemic from December 2019 through to September 2020. The first case was identified in Australia on 25 January 2020. On 23 March 2020 Australia had stage 1 shutdowns. On the 8 May the Australian Government released the three stage plan out of lockdown. On 2 August a state of disaster was declared in Victoria.

Chart: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Sources: