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Aged care residents will be able to move out of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic without losing their place or copping extra charges.

Legislation passed federal parliament on Thursday, creating a new category of emergency leave for aged care.

Under current arrangements, permanent residents are entitled to 52 days a year of social leave.

When that’s exceeded, providers no longer receive government subsidies, meaning significant costs are passed on to residents.

The federal government will now continue paying providers during emergencies like a pandemic or bushfires if the 52-day social leave cap is broken.

The legislation also bans providers from charging residents to reserve rooms while on leave during emergencies, with changes backdated to April 1.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said residents should be supported if they choose to move in with family during the pandemic.

“Many residents and their families are fearful of the risk of contracting or spreading the virus whilst in an aged care home,” he told parliament on Thursday.

“They’re not just numbers. They are individuals. They are members of families who are loved, cherished by all their families.”

Senator Colbeck also defended the government’s handling of an outbreak at Sydney nursing home Newmarch House where 16 people died and 71 have been infected.

He said medical experts had worked closely with the facility to ensure required staffing levels and personal protective equipment were met.

“We’ve been working closely with all of the jurisdictions to provide the resources that have been required,” Senator Colbeck said.

He wants the aged care royal commission to look at all nursing homes rather than solely focusing on Newmarch.