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Public Health Orders in New South Wales amid COVID-19 Pandemic

As at the date of this article, New South Wales has recorded over 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 accounting for nearly a half of the national case number in Australia. Empowered by the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) (‘the Act’), the state government has issued a series of public health orders in order to control the pandemic.

In this article, we will make an overview of these public health orders covering aspects of social distancing, quarantine, and protection of vulnerable groups of the community. It is highly advisable to comply with these orders for protecting oneself and the community. A failure to comply may incur substantial fines and even imprisonment.

Social distancing

Strict social distancing rules are imposed by the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 as follows:

  1. A person must not leave his place of residence without a reasonable excuse such as obtaining food or other goods and services, traveling to work or school if that cannot be done at home, exercise or medical or caring reasons. It is particularly stressed that taking a holiday in a regional area is not a reasonable excuse.
  2. No more than 2 persons can gather in public places except for work, care or assistance of vulnerable persons, emergency assistance, gathering by members of the same household, weddings attended by no more than 5 persons, funerals attended by no more than 10 persons, moving of home or business premises. Exemptions also apply to exempted premises such as courts, emergency services, schools, supermarkets etc.
  3. Non-essential business premises are either closed, such as entertainment and sports facilities, or restricted in operation, such as food and drink premises confined to take-away services.
  4. The occupier or operator of premises other than a person’s place of residence or exempted premises must ensure that less than 500 persons be allowed to enter or stay on an outdoor premises at the same time, and less than 100 allowed to enter or stay on an indoor premises at the same time. The occupier or operator must deny entry or stay if the premises is not large enough to keep each person there 4 square metres apart from another.

This order commenced on 31 March 2020. Its expiry remains at the direction of the government for it specifies no expiry date. Moreover, the government has a general power under the Section 7 of Act to make orders it thinks fit.


Under Public Health (COVID-19 Air Transportation Quarantine) Order 2020, persons arriving in the state by air who has been overseas within 14 days before his arrival must be quarantined upon arrival for a certain period, which is currently 14 days.

Under Public Health (COVID-19 Maritime Quarantine) Order 2020, persons on a vessel arriving in the state from a port outside the state must not disembark unless authorised by the Commissioner of Police or required as a result of emergency. Person allowed to disembark must also be quarantined for 14 days upon landing.

Under Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Order 2020, a person diagnosed with COVID-19 must immediately self-isolate at a place of residence, or go to a hospital if a health practitioner thinks necessary. After being discharged from the hospital, the person still needs to self-isolate immediately. The person must remain in self-isolation until he is assessed by a medical practitioner to be free of the COVID-19 virus.

The person in self-isolation must not leave his place except for obtaining medical care or medical supplies or emergency circumstances. He cannot let anyone else in except those usually living with him, those for medical or emergency purposes, or those for delivery of food or essential items.

The order relating to arrival by air will be repealed on 25 June 2020, and the one on self-isolation on 23 June 2020. No such expiry date is specified in the order relating to maritime arrivals.

Protection of vulnerable groups

According to Public Health (COVID-19 Residential Aged Care Facilities) Order 2020, access to a residential aged care facility is restricted to its residents, prospective residents, employees or contractors of the facility operator, and persons providing necessary goods or services, health services, care and support visit on the day, end-of-life support, emergency management and law enforcement, unless exemption applies granted by the Minister of Health in writing.

However, persons except residents are denied access to aged care facilities if the person has a fever or other symptoms of acute respiratory infection, does not have up-to-date flu vaccination, or if within 14 days before the proposed access, the person has arrived from overseas or had known contact with another person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Persons under 16 are also denied access except for providing end-of-life support for a resident.

Lord Howe Island, an island group 600 km from the New South Wales mainland with a few hundred inhabitants, is also subject to access restriction and quarantine upon arrival measures under the Public Health (COVID-19 Lord Howe Island) Order 2020.

The order relating to aged care facilities is to end on 22 June 2020, and the one relating to Lord Howe Island on 18 June 2020.

Consequences of failure to comply

It is an offence under Section 10 of the Act not to comply with the public health orders, such as violating social distancing rules, opening up business when it should have been closed, or breaking out of self-isolation or quarantine. Currently

  1. An individual offender may be fined up to $11,000 with a further $5,500 fine for each day the offence continues. The offender may even be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 6 months.
  2. A corporation offender may be fined up to $55,000 with a further $27,500 fine for each day the offence continues.

Moreover, the police have powers to arrest an offender and take him back to his home or place of quarantine, and issue penalty notices to offenders. Such powers will be in effect for 1 year since 25 March 2020 according to Sections 71A and 118 of the Act.

Please contact our firm for advice specific to your circumstances.

Disclaimer: This publication is general information only and does not purport to provide legal advice. We do not accept responsibility for any losses for reliance upon this publication.


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