Coronavirus - What are your human rights and responsibilities?
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The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an unprecedented event, both in terms of public health, the economy, and the law. The Federal Government has responded to the epidemic by declaring a public health emergency under the Biosecurity Act 2005 (Cth), and the Health Minister has issued recommendations and directives relating to travel and gatherings, and by limiting the operation of certain businesses. The Federal Government has also prohibited Australian Citizens from leaving Australia during this time, and barred cruise ships from entering Australia.
The recommendations and directions issued by the Federal Government have been implemented by the State and Territory Governments, which have issued a number of State-level health directives. These effect the rights and responsibilities of people living in the various States and Territories.
Many people are concerned that they are being given confusing or contradictory information by the Government and the media. People who fail to follow a health directive can face significant fines, or even imprisonment. The Federal and State Government powers which have been granted through the declaring of the health emergency are broad, and often uncertain.
It is important to know exactly what your rights and responsibilities are in these times. If you are concerned about your rights, or if you feel you have received a fine without a good reason, we are here to help you.
Government Powers and Health Directives
Under the Biosecurity Act, the Chief Medical Officer and delegated biosecurity officers have the power to require that individuals do certain things, or refrain from doing them. These include:
- Restricting movement by self-quarantining;
- Provide body samples for diagnosis;
- Undertake treatment or receive a vaccination; and
- Be isolated at a medical facility.
This is the source of the Federal Government’s power to require that individuals engage in social distancing, or that certain businesses close.
Under the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld), and following from the Federal Government’s recommendations, the Queensland Minister for Health has declared a public health emergency. This has allowed them the power to issue what are known as ‘Health Directives’, which effect the rights of people in Queensland to gather and move in public. These health directives are being updated and modified as the pandemic develops.
The most recent Health Directive was issued by the Queensland Government on Thursday April 2nd 2020, and applies until further notice. Should further Health Directives be issued, we will update this page to keep you informed.
The Health Directive includes the following restrictions on gatherings and travel for people in Queensland:
1. Home Confinement requirements in Queensland
A person who resides in Queensland must not leave their principal place of residence except for, and only to the extent reasonably necessary to accomplish, the following permitted purposes:
a. Food and exercise
The Government realises that people still need to be able to travel in order to pick up food or do their groceries. Self-isolation or quarantine can also have its own health consequences, and people are generally permitted to leave their homes for exercise, or to visit health care services.
b. Work and education
Various professions have been classified as ‘essential’, and people are still permitted to travel to carry out any essential business, activity or undertaking (where it cannot reasonably be performed from the person’s principal place of residence).
Education and early childhood workers may travel to and from their home centre over the term 1 break.
Students are permitted to attend a childcare facility, school, university, or other educational institution, to the extent that care or instruction cannot reasonably be obtained from that student’s principal place of residence.
c. Visiting other people
There are a number of circumstances in which travel and gatherings are still permitted, including visiting other people (in certain circumstances).
You are still permitted to visit another person’s residence, however the owner or occupier of that premises can only allow two visitors who are not ordinary members of that household at any time (this does not count towards workers or volunteers entering a household when they are not ‘visiting’, nor does it apply to people who require at-home medical or disability care, aged care facilities, corrective services, or detention centres).
If you do have people visiting you, you and your guests must take reasonable steps to practice social distancing (as much as it is possible).
You are still permitted to visit a terminally ill relative or to attend a funeral or wedding, subject to any applicable restrictions under other relevant Public Health Directions. You can also travel in order to provide assistance, care or support to an immediate family member.
d. Legally mandated travel
People who are required to attend any court or tribunal of Australia or to comply with or give effect to orders of the court or tribunal of Australia must still do so. Similarly, you are permitted to travel in order to assist with or participate in an investigation or other action by a law enforcement authority, whether voluntarily or not.
For children under 18 years who do not live in the same household as their biological parents or siblings or one of their parents or siblings, continuing existing arrangements will remain in place.
If a Government Agency requires that you travel or gather in a certain way, then you will be permitted under the Health Directive to do so.
People are permitted to travel in the case of medical emergencies. This can include leaving somewhere in order to avoid injury or illness (e.g., a person over the age of 70 with an existing medical condition, or people who are at risk of family or domestic violence).
2. Outdoor gatherings of up to 2 persons or with members of household
If you leave your principal place of residence for a permitted purpose, you are allowed to be accompanied by a member of your household or, alternatively, by no more than one person who is not a member of their household.
If a person requires physical assistance to leave their principal place of residence or it is reasonably necessary for the safety of the person or the public, and there is no other reasonable way for them to do so without assistance, a person may be accompanied by more than one person who is not a member of their household and who is a carer.
3. Gatherings in non-residences
A person who owns, controls or operates premises, other than a residence, must not organise or allow a gathering to occur on the premises. The Qld Chief Health Officer may grant exceptions to this on compassionate grounds or in other exceptional circumstances.
What are ‘essential businesses and activities’?
The Government has allowed people involved in the operating of ‘essential businesses’ general exemptions to the restrictions on travel and gatherings for purpose of that business and activity. But what is an ‘essential businesses or activity’?
The Qld Government has approached this by providing a list of non-essential businesses or activities (which themselves have exceptions). These includes:
- Cafes, restaurants and food courts (except for takeaway);
- Markets (except for food and farmers markets);
- Beauty and personal care services;
- Entertainment venues, such as cinemas, nightclubs, casinos, and stadiums;
- Indoor and outdoor playcentres, including playgrounds;
- Indoor and outdoor gyms, including boot camps and personal training;
- Public barbecues
- Camping and caravan parks (except for people permanently living in caravans, or who are staying in one temporarily because their primary residence is not available);
- Public spaces, such as libraries, museums, or art galleries;
- Weddings and funerals (weddings can proceed with a maximum of five people in attendance, and funerals with a maximum of ten).
In addition to the concerns which people have about their health and the laws effecting their rights, difficulties are arising with purchasing essential goods. Shoppers are experiencing shortages of necessities which has occurred, in part, due to panic-buying and stockpiling, and people price-gouging by purchasing essential goods and re-selling them at a large mark-up.
In response to this behaviour, the Federal Government has issued an ‘Essential Goods Determination’ which is aimed to prevent the purchasing of large quantities of essential goods and re-selling them at extortionate prices.
This new law applies to essential goods purchased after 30 January 2020 and prohibits a person from re-selling them for more than 120% of the price for which they were purchased. This includes goods purchased from supermarkets, pharmacists, chemists, or other retail stores (both online and in person).
‘Essential goods’ includes disposable face masks, disposable gloves, disposable gowns, goggles, glasses or eye visors, alcohol wipes or hand sanitizer, as well as other goods which might be worn or used to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Failure to comply with this directive can result in up to five years’ imprisonment, and a fine of up to $63,000. The goods which they possess will also be repossessed if the person is found to have engaged in price-gouging.
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