What You Can And Can’t Do During Australia’s Coronavirus Shutdown

What You Can And Can’t Do During Australia’s Coronavirus Shutdown
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Restrictions announced across Australian states and territories have changed daily routines for millions around the country. Given the number of measures in place, there’s still some confusion over what we can and can’t do in the times of coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know.

This article was originally published on March 23 but has since been updated with the latest changes as of April 28.

The government shut down non-essential services and businesses from midday local time on Monday March 23 with it likely lasting for months in some form. Cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs have closed down while supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and petrol stations remain open.

While it was a big step, more announcements from federal and state governments since then have only muddied the waters further and now many of us are wondering whether a park visit or going to the post office will result in steep fines or even jail time.

The confusion stems from the fact that the federal government has provided outlines but individual states and territories have decided to enforce extra measures on top.

If you are unsure about what you can do, here’s an extensive guide to help you navigate life amid Covid-19.

Can I still catch public transport?

For now, public transport is still considered an essential service across the country so you will still be able to get on a bus or train but keep an eye on timetables in case they’re altered.

The government’s FAQ document does state “non-essential travel is to be avoided” and that travelling long distances on public transport can carry a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“Long distance services carry a higher risk of infection and should be reconsidered at this time. If possible, sit in the backseat of taxis and ride share vehicles,” the document reads.

Of course, if you need to use it to do your essential grocery shopping, the service remains available for now.

Can I go to the post office?

The requirements say you need to stay home unless one of the following applies:

  • going to work or education (if you are unable to do so at home)
  • shopping for essential supplies such as groceries, return home without delay
  • going out for personal exercise in the neighbourhood, on your own or with one other
  • attending medical appointments or compassionate visits

This makes going to the post office a tricky one. Ultimately, this comes down to where you live and how heavily they are enforcing the orders. In NSW, tough laws have been enacted, which attract huge fines of up to $11,000 being handed down if you don’t abide by the rules. While going to the post office isn’t mentioned explicitly, you could argue it would fall under accessing public services, which you’re allowed to do.

In Victoria, similar rules apply if you’re out of the house without a valid reason. The legislation, however, specifically names a post office as a necessary service so you’ll be fine there.

Queensland too makes concessions if you’re shopping for “necessary supplies” so a post office visit will fall under this.

Essentially, if you’re going somewhere for a necessary task, like the post office, you should have no issues as long as it’s a direct route and you’re obeying other distancing requirements.

Can I still get takeaway coffee?

The federal government has allowed cafes and restaurants to stay open despite the eating-in restrictions forcing them to close their doors. But because grabbing a takeaway coffee doesn’t always feel essential, it’s led to some confusion about whether it’s fine to get out and grab one.

According to the updated laws in NSW, you’re allowed to leave the house for the purposes of “obtaining food or other goods and services”. Grabbing your morning coffee will likely fall under this category so you should still be able to do so.

The same applies in Victoria, and while legislation changes in other Australian states and territories also don’t explicitly mention the legality of walking down the street for a takeaway coffee, any exemptions under “obtaining food” will likely apply.

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Can I go to Bunnings or IKEA?

While Bunnings and IKEA are probably not defined as essential shopping outlets for everyone, they remain open for the time being.

Bunnings has since restricted its trading hours to tradies before 9am while most stores will now close at 7pm. All the regular social distancing rules still apply so keep this in mind if you need to visit.

IKEA stores also remain open but it’s best to check in with your local one to see if hours have at all changed.

Still, just because you can go to one of these stores doesn’t mean you should. Social distancing can be tough to maintain given the enclosed aisles and spaces so if it’s really not necessary, consider avoiding or ordering online instead.

Can I still go for a walk or a jog?

Lifehacker Australia asked the Department of Health for some clarification on whether regular activities, like going for a run, could be continued and it directed us to this document of frequently asked questions.

According to the department’s advice, exercise can be continued as long as social distancing requirements are obeyed.

“All Australians are required to stay home unless it is absolutely necessary to go outside,” the document reads but adds going outside to exercise is allowed.

As long as you’re practising proper hygiene and maintaining social distancing (1.5 metres apart from others), and only going with a maximum of one other person — unless they’re a part of your household — then there should be no issue going for a walk or jog.

Because of these recommendations, it would be a smart decision to avoid venturing out to any popular running and walking routes.

Can I still go to the beach?

Going to popular beaches is off the cards right now unless you’re there to exercise. A few weeks back, a number of beaches in Sydney, including the famous Bondi Beach, were shut down due to hoards of beach-goers turning up and not following any of the social distancing recommendations. Some have since opened up again but anyone going there will need to be exercising — surfing, swimming, running and walking. That means no picnics or sunbathing. If rules aren’t followed, local councils will likely just shut them down again.

Additionally, beach pools will remain closed in many places until further notice.

Can I still go to the shops?

Supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations have been deemed as essential services and are not required to shut for now.

While at the supermarket, don’t forget the social distancing requirement of 1.5 metres. That means, leave an appropriate space in the queue behind the person in front and avoid aisles that are crowded. It is sensible to disinfect the trolley before using it and clean your hands thoroughly after your visit. Also, be careful to not touch your face or your phone during the visit.

As for shopping centres, a number of stores are now closed so it’s best to park closest to the supermarket within the shopping centre in order to get in and out quickly.

Can I still go to the park or for a bush walk?

Given the advice is to stay at home and travel locally if necessary, bush walks should really be off the cards unless your home is nearby.

If it’s a part of your exercise routine, and you’re only with one other person, then it’s still technically permitted but the reality is that walking routes are often narrow and it will be hard to avoid people on popular tracks.

From 2 May, Queenslanders will be allowed go for picnics with household members and can travel up to 50 kilometres from their homes. It remains to be seen whether other states will soon follow in their steps.

Saying that, like all the other grey areas noted above, consider whether it’s something you need to do and leave if vulnerable people are around.

Can I have a few friends over or visit their house?

Indoor and outdoor gatherings are now limited to two unless they’re members of your household. This is slightly complicated but essentially, if you live in a sharehouse or with a family of more than two, you will, for instance, be able to walk to the park to exercise.

These changes will soon vary state by state as governments look to ease restrictions. Western Australians, for example, will now be allowed to have 10 people over during indoor and outdoor gatherings where it was previously two.

The NSW Government announced in late April that restrictions would be eased and two adults plus however many children accompanying them will now be allowed to visit other households from 1 May. That means you can theoretically visit parents and friends again as long as the visitors are capped at two adults — not large groups.

The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said she didn’t want people to take unnecessary risk but said the easing would help those feeling isolated and anxious a reprieve. She did highlight that if you’re visiting anyone over 75 years of age or someone with a co-morbidity, it was still important to practise social distancing.

“If you have the mildest sniffle, do not go and visit anybody… or if you’re feeling slightly unwell or fatigued, don’t risk it,” Berejiklian added.

Outside of the house, gatherings are still limited to just two people, according to federal advice. That means exercising, grocery shopping and anything else deemed essential can only be done by yourself and one other person unless the exception from above applies.

The question is then: Just because you can, should you? As with all the previous measures, it’s about necessity — if you’re struggling to cope with self-isolation, then hanging out with a friend or seeing family might make you feel at ease among all the panic and anxiety many of us are experiencing right now.

It’s important to take the requirements seriously and call off a hangout if someone’s feeling unwell.

Alternatively, there are digital ways to keep in touch such as social media and video calls. Even some people are taking to Skype dates so there’s always a way around social contact.

What you can’t do in Australia’s coronavirus restrictions

Just as a reminder of what you can’t be doing right now, here’s what’s definitely off the table, as per the government.

  • Non-essential travel unless for groceries, exercise or compassionate grounds
  • Visiting any non-essential facilities who are not obeying the new opening restrictions
  • Leaving the house if unwell

According to the health department’s site, this is the extensive list of everything you’ll no longer be able to visit for the time being:

  • pubs, registered and licensed clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
  • gyms and indoor sporting venues
  • cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos and night clubs
  • restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
  • religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies)
  • food courts (except for take away)
  • auction houses, real estate auctions and open houses
  • personal services ( beauty, nail, tanning, waxing and tattoo salons)
  • spa and massage parlours, excluding health related services such as physiotherapy
  • amusement parks, arcades and play centres (indoor and outdoor)
  • strip clubs, brothels and sex on premises venues.
  • galleries, national institutions, historic sites and museums
  • health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, bathhouses and wellness centres and swimming pools
  • community facilities such as community halls, libraries and youth centres, RSL and PCYC
  • gaming and gambling venues
  • indoor and outdoor markets (excluding food markets). States and territories will make their own announcements about this.

Hang out online if social distancing is getting you down

If you’re struggling with the isolation measures, there are other ways to hang out with people digitally. After-work drinks can be organised through video calls, friends can watch Netflix shows together with Chrome Extensions and speaking to loved ones and friends can help to make you feel less alone.

The important part is we practise social distancing, abide by official health guidelines and, most importantly, limit the risk of making vulnerable people sick.

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