Tens of thousands of Australians and foreign visitors who are supposed to be in self-isolation to stop the spread of coronavirus are not being monitored by authorities.
Despite threats of arrest and fines of up to $50,000 for breaches of public health laws most Australian police forces are not checking on people in self-isolation.
Instead, authorities have said they expect those in quarantine to simply ‘do the right thing’ and not endanger the rest of the community.
Police forces in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory have no current role in actively enforcing self-isolation orders.
Victoria Police has said it would respond to tip-offs about compliance breaches but would otherwise trust potentially infected people to remain in isolation.
Thousands of travellers who are supposed to be in self-isolation to stop the spread of COVID-19 are not being monitored by authorities. Pictured are passengers leaving Sydney Airport in January. It is not suggested anyone pictured has failed to comply with quarantine rules
Authorities have said they expect those in quarantine to simply ‘do the right thing’ and not endanger the rest of the community. Passengers are pictured arriving at Sydney Airport. It is not suggested anyone pictured has failed to comply with quarantine rules
Despite threats of arrest and fines of up to $50,000 for breaches of public health laws most Australian police forces are not checking on people in self-isolation. (Stock image)
The New South Wales Police Force has provided no information about its role in enforcing coronavirus quarantines other than to state ‘this is all still being discussed across the government agencies.’
Only Queensland police appear to be conducting spot-checks on residents and tourists who are supposed to be in quarantine, having undertaken more than 1,850 such visits.
People who are believed to have contracted COVID-19 or been in contact with patients while they were ill with the disease have been told to stay at home for 14 days.
All international arrivals have also been ordered to self-isolate for a fortnight.
During isolation, individuals must stay at home or in their paid accommodation and cannot go anywhere they might have contact with other people, such as work, school, childcare, university or public gatherings.
Those who ignore the orders are putting the community at risk of catching a disease that has already killed more than 6,800 people globally and infected at least 450 Australians.
Victoria Police received an order from the state’s Chief Health Office on Monday about enforcing self-isolation and the prohibition of gatherings of more than 500 people.
‘Police will be looking to people doing the right thing voluntarily and will continue encouraging people to do the right thing,’ a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.
States and territories have varying penalties for those who breach public health laws. Passengers are pictured arriving at Sydney Airport on March 16. It is not suggested anyone pictured has failed to comply with quarantine rules
A health worker in protective clothing prepares to conduct consultations with passengers arriving at Brisbane Airport on March 16
‘We will be enforcing arrests and detaining people as a last resort. We know that the vast majority of the community do the right thing.
‘If people have concerns with other people breaching self-isolation, please call Triple Zero or the Police Assistance Line.
‘We will be triaging the calls in relation to their veracity and assessing the risks about those calls.
‘Common law discretion will be there for police officers to determine what action they will take.
Queensland police have conducted more than 8,500 checks on citizens in self-isolation since February 5
‘Our priority is not around arrest. Our priority is around community involvement, community consent, and community doing the right thing.
‘We don’t want the community to be reliant on resources of the police being taken by engaging in enforcement activities that are not necessary to engage in.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday anyone arriving in Australia would be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
‘Up until now, that has been a voluntary arrangement,’ he said. ‘There has been no potential sanction that might apply against a person for not following that requirement.
‘Once state authorities are in a position to give that its legal enforcement, then that will be a change.
‘If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up to work, and they are sitting next to you, they will be committing an offence.
‘It’s a matter for state authorities as to what penalties they’ll place on that.’
Each states and territory has its own penalties for breaches of public health laws, however police forces simply cannot strictly monitor self-isolation orders.
‘This provides the backstop of a legal enforcement, but the idea that there’d be significant resources dedicated to that task would not be practical,’ Mr Morrison said.
Police have visited thousands of Australians in random checks to ensure those who have self-isolated amid the coronavirus outbreak are staying at home. Victoria Police put a mask on this man as he was arrested in Melbourne’s Swanson Street last week
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged citizens to take it upon themselves to tell authorities if they were aware of anyone violating self-isolation orders.
‘There are penalties in place for people who don’t respect what we’ve done,’ Ms Berejiklian said. ‘We really need people to step up as well and to follow instructions.
‘Because there’s no chance we’re going to be able to monitor every single person that gets off a plane for the next two weeks. It’s not going to be possible.
‘What we do want is to make sure we do have those provisions in place, so that if we do know cases – and people should report these cases, if people are turning up to work when they shouldn’t.
‘If they’re engaging in community and social life when they shouldn’t, well let us know. But I’m hoping most people will step up and do the right thing.’
Ms Berejiklian said police could fine or imprison anyone who failed to self-isolate and could arrest event organisers who allowed functions attended by more than 500 people to go ahead.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has declared a month-long state of emergency, authorising police to detain citizens, restrict movement and prevent entry to premises. Pictured is the international departure terminal at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport last week
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews raised the role of police when he declared a month-long state of emergency, authorising officers to detain citizens, restrict movement and prevent entry to public premises.
‘It is an offence under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to not comply with the orders that have been made,’ Mr Andrews said on Monday.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 450
New South Wales: 210
South Australia: 30
Western Australia: 28
Northern Territory: 1
Australian Capital Territory: 2
TOTAL CASES: 450
Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk has said police in her state were monitoring individuals in self-isolation cases and people had been complying with the rules.
‘We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
A Queensland Police Service spokesman confirmed officers had visited more than 1,850 individuals in self-quarantine since February 5 without having to take any enforcement action.
‘The QPS is conducting ongoing support to Queensland Health as part of a whole of government response to the COVID-19 situation,’ the spokesman said.
‘The visitation of those people in self-quarantine is part of that support process.’
A South Australian Police spokesman said he could not comment on operational matters other than to state SAPOL would respond to the crisis ‘as required’.
‘SAPOL are actively planning and preparing for any directions or assistance the SA Department of Health may require involving the COVID-19 virus,’ he said.
The Western Australia Police Force was ‘working closely with WA Health and Commonwealth agencies including the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force to ensure the process is seamless and consistent across the country.’
All international travellers have now also been ordered to self-isolate for a fortnight. Passengers are pictured arriving at Sydney Airport on Monday. It is not suggested anyone pictured has failed to comply with quarantine rules
A spokesman for ACT Policing said the service was working closing with the territory’s chief health officer to assist in the response to the pandemic.
‘ACT Policing is confident those in self-isolation will follow the appropriate measures to protect the most vulnerable in our community,’ the spokesman said.
‘To date there have been no requests to confirm self-isolation activities.’
MAXIMUM PENALTIES FOR BREACHING PUBLIC HEALTH ORDERS
NSW – $11,000 fine and six months’ jail
QLD – $26,690 fine
SA – $25,000 fine
WA – $50,000 and 12 months’ jail
TAS- $8,400 fine
VIC – $6,600 fine
ACT – $8,000 fine
NT – $1,256 fine or six month’s jail
Northern Territory Police have no involvement in compliance checks for self-isolation.
A Tasmania Police spokeswoman said: ‘At this stage Tasmania Police has not been asked to assist the Director of Public Health in enforcing the Public Health Act 1997.’
Queensland and NSW police have stopped conducted random roadside breath and drug tests as a safety measure.
Each state has varying punishments for breaches of public health orders.
In Western Australia, people who ignore a public health order could be hit with a $50,000 fine and spend up to 12 months behind bars.
Under the South Australian Public Health Act, people who refuse to comply with policies could be forced to pay a maximum fine of $25,000.
In New South Wales, people who breach the public health order can be fined up to $11,000 and face six months behind bars.
Queenslanders who fail to comply with health orders could see fines of up to $26,690 along with other penalties.
In Tasmania, a maximum fine for disobeying rules under the Public Health Act is $8,400.
In Victoria, people could face a fine of up to $6,600.
In the ACT the maximum fine is $8,000 and in the Northern Territory it is $1,256 or six months in jail.
Australians who refuse to comply with public health orders to self-isolate amid the outbreak of coronavirus could be hit with massive fines and even jail time. It is not suggested anyone pictured has failed to comply with quarantine rules