Governments across the country have granted their chief health officers with sweeping powers in response to the coronavirus.
On Monday morning the ACT and Victorian governments both declared a state of emergency, while New South Wales triggered special state powers.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman would have the power to take necessary action to prevent the spread of the virus from Monday, including enforcing self-isolation.
The message came shortly after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a state of emergency would begin at midday, to be in force for the next four weeks.
Under the new powers, the Victorian chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton has so far banned non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people.
Gatherings that may continue include public transport, food markets and workplaces, Andrews said. Schools, TAFEs and universities will remain open “for now” but have been asked to restrict mass gatherings such as assemblies and lectures.
Spaces where 500 or more people may be in transit, such as Federation Square or Bourke Street Mall, are excluded from the ban on mass gatherings. However, the premier noted the powers could be used in the future to quarantine entire suburbs, businesses or professions if deemed necessary.
A number of institutions, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library, and Museums Victoria have also announced temporary closures, and events including the Melbourne Comedy Festival and Melbourne Food and Wine Festival have been postponed.
Victorians who don’t comply with a directive could receive a fine of up to $20,000. Fines for body corporates that don’t comply could be up to $100,000.
Over in NSW, Health Minister Brad Hazzard has made an Order under Section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 to force the immediate cancellation of public events with more than 500 people.
Individuals who fail to comply could face up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $11,000, or both, plus additional penalties for each day the offence continues, he said. Corporations face harsher fines.
According to Hazzard, the planned changes ensure the new requirements of the National Cabinet are operational immediately as of Monday, including that all entrants to Australia will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
He said NSW would support the Commonwealth government in implementing this requirement, and warned that if any individual fails to do so the NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant may issue an order to forcibly require compliance.
NSW public schools will remain open but with “enhanced safeguards” focused on physical separation, including students not being required to attend assemblies.
All chief health officers across Australia do not recommend school closures at the current point in time. However, this decision will remain under constant review.