Jail time possible for COVID-19 law rejecters
COVID-19 or coronavirus has unequivocally changed life as we Australians, and most of the world know it.
At the time of writing more than 460,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus with 21,000 recorded deaths.
In Australia more than 2,000 people have been infected and we have seen nine deaths. Queensland has seen over 400 recorded cases and two deaths.
Emergency legislation has been implemented in a direct response to the virus that seriously curtails our freedoms and provides massive financial penalties up to $13,345 for those who breach the law and potentially a life sentence in prison for those found guilty of deliberately infecting, or attempting to infect, another person with coronavirus.
Both new and already established legislation is applicable however, on 19 March 2020 the Queensland Government enacted amendments to the Public Health Act (2005) which were in direct response to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The act affords wide ranging powers to the Chief Health Officer, a position held by Dr Jeanette Young, to give public health directions.
Those directions are binding law on the public.
Public Heath Directions
Are allowed for the purposes of:
Restricting movement of persons;
Requiring persons to stay at a stated place;
Prohibition on staying or entering a stated place;
Restrictions in regard to contact between people;
Any other directions the chief health officer considers necessary to protect public health.
At the time of writing, there are seven current public heath directions in force.
These directions have the potential to evolve and change dynamically, and no doubt if the situations worsens these restrictions will become tighter.
A non-exhaustive summary of some of these currently enforced public heath directives are:
Non-Essential Business Closures
The directive has taken the extreme step of closing down or placing restrictions of trade on non-essential businesses. The direction includes:
Food outlets are limited to take away services only with social distancing requirements in place;
Pubs, Clubs, nightclubs, casinos and other licensed premises are prohibited from trading;
Retail outlets, concert venues, cinemas, theme parks, gyms and public swimming pools are prohibited from trading;
Personal trainers can continue to hold outdoor bootcamps of less than 10 people maintaining social distances;
Campgrounds and zoos are prohibited from trading;
Weddings and Funerals
The current health directive requires only five people in total can attend a wedding.
The directive allows only ten people to attend a funeral. In this space there has been some flexibility applied.
Recently the Prime Minister's office intervened to allow eleven children to attend their father's funeral in Victoria.
There are restrictions on attending an aged care-facility;
There are restrictions on attending a correctional facility;
Trading hours on supermarkets and grocery stores have been adjusted to allow opening hours commencing at 7am and allowing the owner to restrict access to the elderly or other class of person;
There have been public safety protocols directed for the upcoming local government council elections - for instance how to vote cards are prohibited from being handed out.
Queensland Borders Closed
Queensland boarders are closed for the first time in more than 100 years.
The last time being in 1919 due to the Spanish flu outbreak.
All people travelling to Queensland from another state or territory will be subject to 14 days of self-quarantine unless they are an exempt person.
There are circumstances which would still require an exempt person to self-quarantine such as if they had travelled overseas or travelled to particular area in Australia declared by the chief health officer.
An exempt person includes:
A Queensland resident;
Nation or State Government Employees;
Health Service Workers;
Emergency Service Workers;
People living and working close to the border.
If you are a person that fits the exempt category, particularly a person that lives and works near the border, the Queensland Police have set up a web page for the purposes of obtaining an approved Queensland Entry Pass that can be displayed on your vehicle.
There will be police at the border checking passes.
Queensland Police have publicly stated if a person at a checkpoint is unable to demonstrate capability to self-quarantine they will be turned around.
The federal government has also banned all international travel.
Any person who contravenes a Queensland public health direction, without a reasonable excuse, is liable to a criminal offence with the maximum penalty being a fine of $13,345.
The law does not allow a person to be imprisoned for this offence.
Police DO have the power of arrest for any person who commits the offence of breaching public health directions.
The police also have the power to use reasonable force to ensure compliance with the public health directions.
This means a police officer can forcibly detain a person and place them in quarantine if they are non-compliant.
In the last few days the public has become aware of a person in New South Wales who decided to perform a filmed 'prank' and attend a police station and cough on officers pretending he had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
He was charged under New South Wales law with a serious offence of stalking or intimidating with intent to cause fear or physical harm.
In Queensland this person would also face criminal sanction via an assortment of serious charges.
Depending on the circumstances the person could be charged with causing a public nuisance, assault, threatening violence which all carry sentences of imprisonment.
If a person infected by the virus deliberately attempted to infect or did infect another person he/she would be liability to a maximum sentence of life imprison for transmitting a serious disease to another.
The laws surrounding COVID-19 are serious, not just in respect to public safety, but also because of the serve penalties that may flow if you are charged with the criminal offence for breaching a public health direction.
Ensure you are responsible, stay informed and seek advice if you are unsure of your obligations. It's incumbent on all of us to do our bit to keep the community safe.
Originally published as Jail time possible for COVID-19 law rejecters