Six months jail, $11,000 fines: New punishments in NSW as enforcement of coronavirus restrictions begin

Authorities around Australia are imploring the public to practise self-isolation measures as states and territories begin enforcing new restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (right) and NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speak to the media during a press conference

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (right) and NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speak to the media during a press conference Source: AAP

People in New South Wales can now face six months in jail and fines of up to $11,000 for breaching a new ministerial directive giving police sweeping powers to enforce regulations aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

The NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020, signed by health minister Brad Hazzard at 10:20pm on Monday night, makes it unlawful for people to leave their place of residence outside of 16 "reasonable excuses".

Acceptable “reasonable excuses” include: to “obtain food or other goods and services", travel to work and education if it can’t be done from home, exercise, for medical or caring reasons, to donate blood, and access public services such as welfare or domestic violence support.

In addition, the Order also bans gatherings of more than two people in public places, unless they are members of the same household, or if gatherings are "essential for work or education".

From Tuesday, police in most states and territories - with the exception of the Northern Territory and South Australia - began enforcing new directives given by the Federal Government to curb the spread of coronavirus.

New South Wales has roughly half of Australia’s total COVID-19 cases, and the state government confirmed on Tuesday morning it had passed 2,000 infections.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday implored people to not leave their homes unless they "absolutely" have to as the state tries to slow the spread of the virus.

She said the biggest concern is the level of community transmission in some areas, such as Waverley and Bondi in Sydney's eastern suburbs, where people may be unaware they have coronavirus.

"It's really important for people to assume they have it and to act like they have it," she told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

Travellers arrive to check in to one of only a handful of departing flights at the Brisbane international airport, Monday, March 30, 2020
Source: AAP

"We have had localised breakouts in areas like Waverley and Bondi and as a result increased testing in those areas will happen to really reduce community to community transmission."

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday reached 2,032 - an increase of 114 on the previous day.

Thirty-five NSW patients are in intensive care.

Meanwhile, Victorians can now only go out of their homes to buy essentials, exercise, or go to work or study if they can't do it from home.

And even when staying home, gatherings of more than two people who are not part of the household will be an offence.

To ensure Victorians comply with the restrictions in place, on-the-spot fines of $1,652 for individuals and $9,913 for businesses will apply.

Larger fines can also be issued through the courts.

Premier Daniel Andrews warned Victorians that they will be punished if they flout the latest restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than two people.

"Victoria Police will not hesitate to take action against you," Mr Andrews said.

In Queensland, fines of $1,330 can now be given, while a $1,000 penalty can be issued in Western Australia. 

Police in the ACT and Tasmania also have the capacity to issue fines.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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Additional reporting by AAP, Evan Young.

Published 31 March 2020 at 8:40am, updated 31 March 2020 at 10:10am
By SBS News