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Criminal Offences for not Complying with COVID-19 Directions (26 March)

Key points: Today, new directions come into force relating to COVID-19. There are additional closures of certain facilities and bans on certain activities. However, the ban announced on hairdressers...

Justin Wong

Key points:

  • Today, new directions come into force relating to COVID-19.
  • There are additional closures of certain facilities and bans on certain activities. However, the ban announced on hairdressers and barbers has been lifted.
  • Strict self-isolation orders are in place for anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • It is a criminal offence in NSW to fail to comply with these directions. A maximum penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment is applicable.

Under the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW), the NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Brad Hazzard, has the power to give directions that the Minister considers necessary to deal with a public health risk.

Failure to comply with directions can lead to a prison sentence of up to 6 months.

Using the powers under this act, the NSW government has been co-operating with the federal government to implement nation-wide policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today (26 March 2020), two new directions came into force at midnight, replacing the previous directions and adding further restrictions. The current directions are now as follows:

Public Health (COVID-19 Gatherings) Order (No 2) 2020

  • Gatherings of 500 or more people outdoors and gatherings of 100 or more people indoors are not permitted. A person is not to organise such a gathering or attend such a gathering, and an occupier or operator of premises is not to allow such a gathering to occur.
  • Gatherings of less than 500 people outdoors or less than 100 people indoors are also not permitted unless there is sufficient space to ensure there is 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises.
  • The 4-square-metre rule for gatherings under the 500 or 100 person limit does not apply to gatherings at a person’s place of residence or to the exempted “essential gatherings”. The following is a list of “essential gatherings”:
    • Airports;
    • Public transport;
    • Hospital and health services;
    • Emergency services;
    • Disability or aged care facilities;
    • Correctional and custodial facilities;
    • Courts and tribunals;
    • Parliament;
    • Supermarkets, food markets, grocery stores and shopping centres;
    • Offices, factories, mining and construction sites;
    • Schools, universities, educational institutions and child care centres (excluding school events);
    • Hotels and other accommodation facilities; and
    • Outdoor spaces where 500 or more persons may be present to transition through the place.
  • Note that from 26 March 2020, retail stores are no longer exempted from the 4-square-metre rule for gatherings.
  • The following facilities must not be open to members of the public (with some exceptions):
    • Pubs and registered clubs;
    • Other food and drink premises;
    • Entertainment facilities (theatres, cinemas, concert halls etc);
    • Amusement centres;
    • Casinos;
    • Micro-breweries or small distilleries;
    • Indoor recreation facilities (gyms, pools, bowling alleys, ice rinks, squash courts);
    • Places of public worship (except for weddings with no more than 5 people and funerals with no more than 10 people);
    • Spas, nail salons, beauty salons, waxing salons, tanning salons, tattoo parlours and massage parlours;
    • Auction houses and betting agencies;
    • Non-food related markets;
    • Information and education facilities (art galleries, museums, libraries, visitor information centres);
    • Caravan parks and camping grounds (except for permanent residents of the park or those who have no other place of residence, and their visitors);
    • Community facilities (government or non-profit organisations for community welfare); and
    • Sex services premises.
  • Restaurants and other venues are still permitted to sell takeaway food and drink and to provide hotel/motel accommodation.
  • The closure of barber shops and hairdressers has been lifted.
  • Additionally, a person must also not do the following:
    • Conduct an open house (single party inspections by appointment are exempted);
    • Conduct an auction in person (except livestock auctions for food supply);
    • Conduct or participate in a fitness class or personal training (unless it is outside and no more than 10 people are present); or
    • Participate in a social sport (unless outside and no more than 10 people present).

Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Order 2020

  • From 26 March 2020, a person diagnosed with COVID-19 who does not require hospitalisation must immediately travel to their residence (or other place determined to be suitable by a health practitioner) and must reside at that place until medically cleared.
  • If determined by a health practitioner to be necessary, a diagnosed person must travel directly to a hospital for assessment. Upon discharge, the person must travel directly to their residence (or other place determined to be suitable by a health practitioner) and reside there until medically cleared.
  • Until medically cleared, the diagnosed person must not leave the residence except to obtain medical supplies or medical care, or if there is an emergency situation.
  • No other person is permitted to enter the residence unless they live there, are also complying with a self-isolation direction, or are attending for medical or emergency purposes.
  • Food and essential items can still be delivered to a place other than a person’s residence (e.g. to a hospital).
  • The diagnosed person must also comply with the NSW Health Self-Isolation Guidelines for Persons with COVID-19.

Other directions

Other directions also remain in force relating to Residential Aged Care Facilities.

The federal government has also imposed separate restrictions for travel to and from Australia and self-isolation upon return, which are subject to different rules and penalties under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth).

Criminal Offences and Penalties

It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a NSW Ministerial direction without reasonable excuse.

Police have been given the power to hand out fines of $1,000 to individuals and $5,000 to businesses that breach public health orders or ministerial directions.

The maximum penalties for individuals include imprisonment for 6 months and/or a fine of $11,000. For a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $5,500 applies for each day the offence continues.

For a corporation, the maximum fine is $55,000 and in the case of a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $27,500 for each day the offence continues.

If you have questions about these new laws, or have been charged with such an offence, please contact one of our criminal lawyers on 9025 9888 or by making a free online enquiry.

Photo by Melanie Shires