As the world’s coronavirus tally continues to increase, more and more of us are being told to stay home or self-isolate as a preventative measure. Self-isolation can be tough for many of us accustomed to taking walks or heading to the local cafe but as Australians have taken a lax approach to the directive, authorities are now ramping up laws and penalties to discourage it. Here’s what your state or territory has announced.
Social distancing versus self-isolation
First things first, there are a few terms we’ll quickly clear up. Right now, the Australian government is recommending two primary measures to limit the spread of the virus — social distancing and self-isolation. The first of which is limiting contact with other people. The Department of Health recommends a number of strategies depending on whether you’re at home, at work or in public places. Some of the key points include:
- Avoid handshaking and kissing
- Visit shops sparingly and buy more goods and services online
- Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly
- Sanitise your hands wherever possible, including entering and leaving buildings
- Use tap and pay rather than handling money
- Try and travel at quiet times and try to avoid crowds
- Public transport workers and taxi drivers should open vehicle windows where possible, and regularly clean and disinfect high touch surfaces
- If unwell, avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 metres from people)
While those are probably the most important, there are a number of other recommendations you can read on the fact sheet if you’re curious.
On the other hand, if you’ve recently returned from travel overseas, been in contact with a confirmed case, are feeling unwell or have been confirmed as having coronavirus, you’ll need to self-isolate.
This means you’re not allowed to leave your place of isolation whether that be your home or hotel or hospital room.
“You must remain isolated either in your home or a healthcare setting until public health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to your usual activities,” the guidelines say.
You are briefly allowed to duck out of the home for necessary tasks — such as taking out the bins — but you’ll need to wear a mask and anything else that prevents further spread and move quickly.
“If you live in a private house, it is safe for you to go into your garden or courtyard. If you live in an apartment or are staying in a hotel, it is also safe for you to go into the garden but you should wear a surgical mask to minimise risk to others and move quickly through any common areas,” it reads.
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So, what happens if I leave during quarantine?
In Western Australia, you can be fined anywhere between $5,000 and $50,000, in accordance with the state’s Public Health Act 2016 and the Emergency Management Act 2005.
“We don’t want this to be a punitive process. But for the public’s safety, we will prioritise whatever is needed to minimise any risk to the public’s health,” Premier Mark McGowan said, according to an ABC report.
“These are necessary times because it’s an extraordinary situation.”
Queensland too is ramping up its attempts to stop people breaking quarantine. The state’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced there would be fines of up to $13,000 and police officers would be making checks on self-isolated cases to ensure they were playing by the rules. It too is using the relevant legislation to legitimise the stringent measures.
“That bill was passed in early February and there are penalties for not complying with the notification and that is around $13,000,” Palaszczuk said in a press statement on March 15.
“We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice.”
Similar laws exist in NSW where Gladys Berejiklian has warned fines and jail time is being considered for those wilfully not following self-isolation orders. According to the Public Health Act 2010, offenders could face six months or up to $11,000.
The same is likely for Victorians as Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency on Monday during a press conference and confirmed the state’s law enforcement officials would fine and jail people if orders weren’t obeyed. That would equate to a maximum of 120 penalty units or up to $19,826.40, in accordance with the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.
“These powers have never been used before,” Andrews said. “That gives you, I hope, a really clear sense about the unprecedented nature of this public health emergency, this really significant challenge.”
Tasmania, South Australia, ACT and NT have similar legislation at the ready as authorities monitor the developing situation across the country.
On a federal level — which trumps state and territory laws — the Biosecurity Act 2015 could be invoked if it continues to happen on a grand scale. Under the act, if directives to self-isolate are broken, forcible detainment in a health facility could on the cards. If that’s also broken, there’s the possibility of up to five years in jail and 300 penalty units or up to $63,000.
So, if you’ve been placed in self-isolation, follow the rules and guidelines because venturing out, even if your symptoms are mild, you could get someone else infected who might not be so lucky.
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