A new phone service has been launched by Australian Red Cross with an aim of connecting people during isolation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Red Cross chief executive Judy Slatyer said the service, called COVID CONNECT, focused on reducing feelings of loneliness and social isolation through a friendly chat with a trained Red Cross volunteer.
She said it was designed for people who did not have good social networks to draw from, and to "fill that void".
"COVID CONNECT offers people the ability to just talk to someone through a social chat; to learn ways to improve on their current level of social connection, and better connect in with their community," she said.
"While people will be thinking about getting back to work soon, physical distancing and other constraints will be around for quite some time."
People can register for COVID CONNECT by visiting www.redcross.org.au or by calling 1800 733 276 during business hours.
She said the phone service built on Red Cross' outreach experience.
"They can choose how often they'd like to receive the calls - whether that's daily or several times a week," Ms Slatyer said.
"Since the pandemic began we've made tens of thousands of calls to people home alone during the pandemic, as well as helping the most vulnerable with meals, hygiene items and vital information.
"Red Cross already makes more than a million wellbeing phone calls a year to people who are elderly and living alone. We're now expanding our phone services with this entirely new service during the pandemic to reach thousands more Australians who are feeling isolated at this time."
The phone line is a way to address despair, fear, loneliness, and other concerns people across the country might be experiencing.
"The service has a range of features including the ability to escalate support or bring in an interpreter if required," Ms Slatyer said.
"We are already seeing the impact that self-isolation is having on the mental health of Australians. Counselling services are reporting record calls as people struggle to cope with the anxiety prompted by COVID-19, reporting that most of the anxiety was not about potentially becoming sick with the virus, but about the sudden social isolation being forced on many."
She said people could also get involved if they wanted to volunteer to be a COVID CONNECT caller.
"Red Cross has found in recent research with the Swinburne Social Innovation Research Institute that social connection has the power to positively affect our health and wellbeing, nurturing community development and providing resilience during times of crisis," she said.
For more information about COVID CONNECT, visit www.redcross.org.au or call 1800 733 276 during business hours.