With the world undergoing another rapid digital revolution, ready access to digital devices will ensure elderly Australians are not "left behind" post-COVD-19.
That's according to Jess Wilson, the national director of the not-for-profit Good Things Foundation Australia.
The foundation, which helps socially excluded people improve their lives through digital technology, has announced $1 million in grant funding for community organisations through its Be Connected program, which assists those aged over 50.
The grants will allow the purchase of loan digital devices and sim cards for older Australians.
"With more than 2.5 million Australians not online, access to the internet is absolutely essential during these incredibly isolating times, particularly for older Australians," she said.
But one of the biggest challenges facing isolated older Australians in this COVID-19 digital landscape is a lack of skills and the means to access it.
In a recent survey conducted by the foundation, 75 per cent of Network Partners, who deliver the program, voiced concern that learners did not have access to the internet because they were lacking digital devices to use at home.
"It is a barrier for people to be able to continue learning, connect with friends and family or have the information they need to understand what is going on with COVID-19 and what they should be doing," Ms Wilson said.
People receiving the fully set up device will be supported to access learning materials on the Be Connected website. When the pandemic is over the devices will be returned to community organisations for ongoing use in digital skills programs.
"Everything has gone online, including all the apps the government is releasing, if you don't even know what an app is then it's really hard - we have a lot of people who don't even know the language of computers.
"It's really important to have someone to help you make sense of that."
The COVIDSafe tracing app is just one example of the dramatic shift to online tools, but with downloads of the Australian Government's COVID-Safe app surpassing three million, many Australians, particularly vulnerable seniors, will not be able to download the app as they do not have access to smartphones.
"What COVID-19 has done is highlight how dependent we are becoming on digital.
"It is so important we don't leave those vulnerable people behind and especially with something like COVIDSafe."
It is now even more important than ever to upskill and provide tools to the elderly.
What COVID-19 has done is highlight how dependent we are becoming on digital. It is so important we don't leave those vulnerable people behind and especially with something like COVIDSafe.Jess Wilson, Good Things Foundation Australia
"It is very unlikely that we will go back to having paper-based things now - the government it seems is fast-tracking to go online - systems, processes and forms and that's across local, state and federal government."
Ms Wilson pointed to the fact that older people are possibly facing a longer time in isolation.
"The people in the Be Connected program are older, they are more at risk of COVID-19, more vulnerable to it and will probably be told to stay isolated physically for longer.
"What's important to us is that they are then able to be connected socially ... so they don't get lonely."
For George Ahern's learners, participating in the Be Connected program at Hurtsville's St George Careers Development Centre, the funding is going to be a game-changer.
The program has had to transition to online and, unfortunately, there are seniors who do not have devices and access to the internet.
"That's where the digital devices grant will really come in handy, to target those people that don't have anything or it's a very simple phone," Mr Ahern said.
"Something like a video call for example or even something simple is going to make the world of difference for them to be able to connect, of course, with us as a tutor but also their family and friends and the rest of the world."
Participants have previously used devices in the classroom or via an outreach process but those devices are returned at the end of the session.
"It will be great to say 'here you go, kick off with this and here's a loaner for six months' while they get on their feet - try before you buy sort of thing and of course it's going to be of no cost to them."
"Even if it's those few introductory things that they learn and just a little bit of connectivity to world ... it's huge for them."
It will allow them, Mr Ahern said, to learn at their own pace, in their own time, at home.
Applications for funding have closed, with successful applicants to be announced on May 11.
"We need this up and running mid-June onward. It's quite soon and that's the idea to hit the ground running and get these people underway."
One of Mr Ahern's learners is 73-year-old Joe Rizzi, of Bexley, who has been attending Be Connected workshops for around eight months.
Mr Rizzi, who moved to Australia from Italy 16 years ago, is a prime example of someone whose social connectivity has expanded as a result of digital skills and access.
He came across the program at the seniors' expo at Westfield.
"I find it quite good, it has taught me a few things about the computer, the internet and all of that.
"George showed me how to use the Whatsapp and I've been ringing overseas and talking to family overseas and video calls."
"I've learnt quite a lot - how to buy online and things like that, how to read emails, send emails."
While Mr Rizzi says he has his own device, he acknowledges that it would be very good for fellow participants to be able to take a borrowed device home.