A state of emergency has been declared in Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT to deal with the spread of coronavirus and help enforce the national 14-day isolation requirement for all travellers coming into Australia.
Victoria enacted the rare measure Monday morning. The ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr then followed suit, also declaring a state of emergency in the nation’s capital.
The WA government on Sunday declared a state of emergency warning those who breached the two-week self-isolation requirement after returning from overseas would be fined up to $50,000.
What does a state of emergency mean?
The rare move to declare a state of emergency is usually only employed during widespread disasters like the recent bushfire crisis and gives authorities and state premiers more power to take control of a difficult situation.
State emergency legislation varies from state to state but gives added powers to certain officials to take measures such as directing the public to evacuate an area or not enter an area, to order power and gas supplies to be shut off, and to enter premises to facilitate the exercise of these powers.
The action in Victoria will allow authorised officers, at the direction of the Chief Health Officer, strong new powers, Premier Daniel Andrews’ office said on Monday.
These powers will include the ability to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health by detaining people, restricting movement, preventing entry to premises, or providing any other direction an authorised official considers reasonable to protect public health, the Victorian government said.
The measure will begin from midday today, and last for at least four weeks.
The step was largely taken to help ensure mandatory self-isolation requirements are adhered to.
What punishments do people face if they don’t comply?
While most people are voluntarily complying with requests to isolate, the expanded powers mean that people who don’t comply with a directive could receive a fine of up to $20,000 in Victoria.
“It is an offence under the public health and well being act to not comply with the orders that have been made,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Monday.
“Those orders in the first instance relate to that mandatory - not optional in any way - home quarantine or at a hotel if you are not a resident.”
However Mr Andrews said authorities were hopeful that fines would not need to be administered as community members understand compliance is in their best interest.
Like in Victoria, the announcement by the ACT this morning was made to give Canberra's chief health officer more powers to enforce isolation and quarantines.
“I want to be clear at this point ... any directions under the public health act would be the last resort measure,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
“At this point, we will continue to focus on containing the spread of the virus.”
Not a ‘state of panic’, Morrison says
The self-isolation sanction of all travellers coming into Australia was declared by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday.
Non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people such as cultural and sporting events and conferences, are also banned in Victoria.
Institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria, State Library, and museums are temporarily closed, while the Melbourne Comedy Festival and Food and Wine Festival have already been postponed.
However, somewhat controversially, exclusions to the mass gathering ban include schools as well as airports, public transport, health services, emergency services, aged care, prisons, parliament, markets and building sites.
“This is about flattening the curve,” Mr Andrews said Monday when announcing the state of emergency.
Victoria's coronavirus tally now sits at 71 after 14 new cases were confirmed overnight. Canberra, meanwhile, confirmed its second known case Sunday with a man in his 30s testing positive.
The latest data from the federal government’s dedicated COVID-19 page at 10:30am Sunday listed the known cases in Australia at 249. That number is now thought to be around 300, the ABC reported this morning.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while a state of emergency was declared, it did not mean it was a “state of panic”.
“Words like state of emergency, I can understand they're anxious types of phrases,” he told Nine on Monday.
“What they're simply doing is giving the state governments the powers and authorities to help protect you, public health and slow the spread of the virus.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.