2 April 2020

ACT social distancing rules extended for another 90 days

| Michael Weaver
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ACT's Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson

“We want to educate first before we move to warnings and fines,” says ACT’s Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson. Photo: File.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has introduced new legislation today (2 April) that will see social distancing measures in place 90 days.

The measures, which are similar to those in NSW, are not designed to be permanent and can be removed if the situation with the COVID-19 virus eases.

“These measures remain in legislation and do not require parliament to remove it, but they lapse after a certain period of time, and there are processes for a review,” Mr Barr told ABC Radio this morning.

“These measures are for public health emergencies only.”

The Bill will have a sunset clause meaning that the new measures will begin to phase out as the community recovers from the coronavirus.

Similar to NSW where a Public Health Order came into effect on 31 March, social distancing laws prohibit non-essential public gatherings of more than two people and require residents to stay home unless they are going to work or an educational institution, to shop for food and essentials, get medical care or supplies, or exercise.

Canberra’s Chief Police Officer says while Canberrans are mostly heeding the new social distancing laws, officers will focus on educating the community before taking action.

“Our message is clear – if you have no reason to go out, don’t go out,” Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said.

“If you’re asking the question ‘is what I’m doing compliant?’, then you’re asking the wrong question. You should be asking ‘is what I’m doing safe for the people I love?’”

While on-the-spot infringement notices are being issued by police throughout NSW, the ACT’s Chief Police Officer said police are partnering with several ACT Government agencies to educate people about their responsibilities and encouraging them to comply.

“If you are outside and police suspect you may not be complying with the directions, our officers may have a conversation with you to find out the reasons why you are not at home,” Assistant Commissioner Johnson said.

The situation has changed rapidly in the past few weeks, and ACT Policing has been acting and responding to the new health measures progressively.

“ACT’s response to compliance measures with the COVID-19 directions remains a staged one – we want to educate first before we move to warnings and fines.”

NSW and ACT residents who leave their homes without a valid excuse could face fines of up to $11,000 or six months’ jail time for serious offences. Lesser on-the-spot fines can also be issued, while individuals will be liable for an extra $5,500 for each day they continue to break the rules.

“We do not want to see large groups of people together around the lake or in Canberra’s parks,” Assistant Commissioner Johnson said.

“Although you can’t be in large groups, for now, it’s okay to go outside by yourself or with someone from your household. Do not stop and chat with friends if you see them, and if passing others, keep a distance.”

He said Canberra’s whole-of-government response to addressing the spread of the COVID-19 virus also means the people should be doing the right thing by each other and staying home where possible.

“If you don’t follow the directions, you not only risk enforcement you are risking someone’s life.

“Now is the time to support each other, and be kind and considerate during this uncertain time.”

Assistant Commissioner Johnson said two men were arrested in Civic on the weekend after spitting and coughing on people while claiming they had the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, just a few days ago two people’s words and actions saw them charged for acts to cause public alarm,” he said.

“While most people in our community are doing the right thing, I am concerned that some aren’t taking the compliance measures seriously.

“I urge people to follow the rules and think before you act. Your safety and the safety at the entire community should be at front of mind.”

Under direction from ACT Health, ACT Policing has also been conducting spot checks of people self-isolating at home.

“To date, our checks have not identified any issues and I would like to thank those Canberrans for doing the right thing,” Chief Police Officer Johnson said.

“Our frontline officers are doing all they can to support those in the frontline at our hospitals and health centres.”

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Is this a total over reaction to another flu? Every year people die from the flu, some years are worse and very occasionally conditions create a 1918-19 event. But we do not destroy our economy, way of life and basic humanity to stop the flu. This has become a contagion of mass hysteria, far out of proportion. Do we want these measures implemented for next year’s flu and all flus in future?

I sincerely hope you are joking.

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