Coronavirus - What are your human rights and responsibilities?

Table of Contents

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 human biosecurity emergency under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (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 affect 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

Federal

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:

  1. Restricting movement by self-quarantining;
  2. Provide body samples for diagnosis;
  3. Undertake treatment or receive a vaccination; and
  4. 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.

Queensland

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 24 July 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:

Movement and Gathering

GENERAL

a. Physical Distancing

Anyone in control of premises, including residences, must take reasonable steps to encourage visitors to practise physical distancing to the extent reasonably practicable.

A person leaving their residence must practise physical distancing while outside to the extent reasonably practicable.

b. Self-quarantine and Self-isolation

A person who is required to self-quarantine or self-isolate under a public health direction issued under the Public Health Act 2005, must not leave, or receive visitors, at the premises in which they are self-quarantining or self-isolating unless permitted by the terms of the direction.

c. Food and Exercise

People are permitted to exercise outside of their homes and within indoor recreational centres (subject to the restrictions below). Physical distancing must be practiced. Additionally, people are allowed to buy groceries, order home-delivery food, take-away or dine in at restaurants.

d. Work and Education

University and higher education students are permitted to attend their educational institutions, but must comply with social distancing policies. School and Early Childhood children must be immediately collected from their institution by a parent or guardian if, in any case, the child shows signs of illness. People are permitted to travel to carry out any means of work or business (where it cannot be reasonably be performed from the person’s residence)

e. Legally Mandated Travel

Australian borders remain closed. Those who are authorised to travel into Australia are Australian citizens, residents, and immediate family members. Everyone who enters Australia must be, under a strict policy, quarantined for 14 days. If a Government Agency requires that you travel or gather in a certain way, then you will be permitted under a health directive to do so.

f. Emergencies

People are permitted to travel in the case of medical emergencies. This can include leaving somewhere 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).

NON-RESTRICTED AREAS

g. Visiting Other People

Anyone in control of a residence in a non-restricted area, may allow up to 30 people to gather at the residence including members of that person’s household.

h. Gathering Outdoors

Public gatherings of up to 30 people are permitted in a non-restricted area.

i. Gathering in Non-residences

Anyone in control of premises, other than a residence, in a non-restricted area must not organise gatherings of more than 30 people to occur on the premises.

RESTRICTED AREAS

These are areas mandated as restricted areas by the chief health officer from time to time as a response to containment of the Coronavirus disease.

j. Visiting Other People

Anyone in control of a residence in a restricted area, may allow up to 10 people to gather at the residence including members of that person’s household and visitors from a different household.

k. Gathering Outdoors

Public gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted in a restricted area regardless of whether people are from the same household or not.

l. Gathering in Non-residences

Anyone in control of premises, other than a residence, in a restricted area must not organise or allow gatherings of more than 10 people to occur on the premises.

Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings

As of 24 July 2020, the following activities, businesses, and additional undertakings listed below are authorised to operate subject to the various exceptions noted.

  • Home delivery
  • Cafes, restaurants, and food courts (Consumers must be seated) (No self-serve Buffets) (Must be in compliance with a COVID Safe Checklist)
  • Nightclubs (Patrons must be seated; the dance floor must not be operated)
  • Real estate auctions and open house inspections
  • Beauty and personal care facilities (Exceptions apply to non-therapeutic massage and water-based spas)
  • Entertainment venues, such as cinemas, casinos, or sport facilities (Operated strictly for seated patrons and gaming and sport facilities may operate in compliance with an Approved Plan)
  • Leisure and out/indoor recreation, such as camping, zoos, gyms, fitness centres or dance studios
  • Residential services, such as hotels, backpackers, or boarding houses (Facilities must include a health care plan)
  • Weddings and funerals (Both restricted to a limit of 100 people)
  • Non-residential institutions, such as libraries, museums, or art galleries (Such institutions are required to ensure no more than one person per 4 square metres in large settings)

However, the Health Minister and the chief health officer have issued detailed restrictions applicable to the above mentioned list which can be found in the latest health directive entitled, Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 5).

In general terms, anyone who owns, controls or operates a restricted business, activity or undertaking in Queensland, including operating at a private residence, or in a public space, may operate the business, activity or undertaking:

  1. In accordance with the restrictions in the direction
  2. On the basis that occupant density is:
    1. No more than one person per 2 square metres (up to a total of 50 people) for venues or spaces of 200 square metres or less; or
    2. No more than one person per 4 square metres for venues or spaces of 200 square metres or more
  1. In accordance with the prescribed COVID SAFE Framework, and
  2. Public health controls

These requirements include the requirement for people attending the business to observe physical distancing, and the 2 or 4 square metre requirements only apply to areas of the business open to or used by the public.

Anti-Price-Gouging Laws

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’, under the ‘Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Essential Goods) Determination 2020, 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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The content of this publication is intended as general commentary only and may not be suitable or applicable to your personal circumstances. It is not intended to replace independent legal advice. You can contact us at our Brisbane Office for a free consultation on a range of litigation matters on (07) 3088 6364.

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Further Reading

Unconscionable Conduct

The doctrine of unconscionable conduct applies when a party to a transaction is under a special disadvantage and another party knew and took advantage of this special disadvantage.