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How Australia will enforce coronavirus self-isolation rules for overseas arrivals

From $50,000 fines to six months’ jail time, states and territories have different penalties for breaching the 14-day quarantine rule

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Australia has introduced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for people arriving from overseas and five states and territories have also introduced domestic border controls.

There are also national rules banning mass gatherings and closing restaurants, gyms, places of worship, and other gathering places deemed “non-essential”.

But how are these rules being enforced?

New South Wales

Under the NSW Public Health Act, anyone who enters Australia from another country will be subject to a 14-day self-isolation quarantine, with fines of up to $11,000 or six months’ prison if they do not comply.

“Obviously the NSW government – indeed all governments around the country – are not wanting to impose penalties on people,” health minister Brad Hazzard said. “What we’re looking for is cooperation.”

The order banning mass gatherings of more than 500 people to stem the spread of coronavirus has also been made under the Public Health Act, with fines of up to $55,000 for corporations who breach that ban and $27,500 for each additional day the event continues.

The order explicitly excludes gatherings including the ordinary operation of a school, university, Tafe and educational college; the ordinary conduct of a court; public transport; and employees attending a workplace. It will remain in place until 14 June.


The Victorian government enacted a four-week state of emergency under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, extending from 12pm Monday to midnight 13 April unless extended.

The state of emergency declaration gives authorised officers, such as police, at the direction of the chief health officer, the power to detain people, restrict movement, prevent entry to premises or provide “any other direction an [authorised officer] considers reasonable to protect public health”.

From 23 March, a taskforce of 500 police officers are patrolling the streets and checking on people in their homes to ensure self-isolation and social distancing rules are complied with.

Under the directive signed by the chief health officer, it is an offence for a person arriving from overseas to fail to go into self-isolation for 14 days. People must not leave the premises where they are self-isolating except for the purpose of obtaining medical care or supplies; in any other emergency situation; or in circumstances where it is possible to avoid close contact with other persons. They also cannot allow visitors into their home.

The penalty for failing to comply is a fine of almost $20,000 for individuals and $100,000 for companies.

“We don’t anticipate having to be fining people,” Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday. “To this point people have been cooperative.”

Flight attendants and citizens or permanent residents of a Pacific Island are exempt.

The same fines apply to anyone breaching the rules around mass gatherings, and rules around the closure of businesses and locations deemed “non-essential”. That list is likely to grow, Andrews said. He has hinted that the state of emergency powers could be extended to include the lockdown of whole suburbs.

Andrews said the powers could be extended to include the lockdown of whole suburbs.


People arriving in Queensland from overseas will be issued with a notice requesting them to voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days. From midnight on Wednesday 25 March, Queensland’s state borders will be closed to everything other than freight and “essential” travel.

“Unless you’re returning home to Queensland or coming to Queensland for an essential purpose like work or a medical appointment, or freight issues, then the border is closed to you,” premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Palaszczuk said authorities in Queensland did not have the resources to ensure people entering the state were undertaking 14-day self isolation, and that permits for those who need to travel may be issued.

Those who arrived from overseas and are self-isolating will be policed under the Public Health Act 2005. Fines of up to $13,345 apply for breaching mandatory self-isolation.

Queensland has been in a state of emergency since late January and can use those powers to enforce compliance if necessary – but it has repeatedly stated that it is aiming for willing community cooperation.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT declared a public health emergency on Monday in response to Covid-19, which gives the chief health officer powers to enforce quarantine provisions, to order the evacuations of public areas, to restrict access to an area, and even to force someone to undergo medical examination.

Under those powers, anyone who breaches the order for travellers to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Australia could face a $8,000 fine, under the Public Health Act 1997.

Mass gatherings and social distancing rules will be policed under the same legislation.

Western Australia

Western Australia closed its state borders at 1.30pm on 24 March. Anyone entering the state after that time, from overseas or another state of Australia, is required to undergo a mandatory 14-day self-isolation. The WA police commissioner has stated that this self-isolation will be required to occur at the point of entry. So if you drive in, you’re stuck at Eucla or Kununurra for two weeks.

The WA government is looking to acquire hotels to enforce self-isolation, and has also suggested repurposing Rottnest Island – a former Aboriginal prison turned holiday destination – for quarantine purposes.

The new border provisions will be enforced by WA police, who are also enforcing rules around mass gatherings and social distancing, using powers under the Emergency Management Act. That act was empowered by a state of emergency declaration on 15 March.

Under the act, travellers who breach the 14-day self-isolation order are liable for a $50,000 fine or possible jail time. The same penalty applies for mass gatherings.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory closed its borders from 24 March, with exemptions for freight and essential services. Self-isolation requirements will be enforced under the Notifiable Diseases Act, which carries penalties of $1,256 or six months’ prison for breaching a public health order.

Di Stevens, the acting chief health officer, said she expected the community would monitor and police each other to ensure isolation orders were followed.

Mass gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned under the Public and Environmental Health Act.

Travel to remote communities for everyone but essential services, supply runs and maintenance runs has also been banned. Gunner said people in remote communities were not being “left alone” during the coronavirus outbreak and would have everything they needed to be healthy and safe.

“To protect you, we are keeping nonessential people away from you,” he said. “If you don’t need to travel out of your community, then don’t. Just like the rest of us you are safer in your home community.”

South Australia

South Australia closed its state borders from 4pm on Tuesday, 24 March. Anyone entering will have to undergo 14-days self-isolation, with exemptions for essential services and people who live in border communities. If there is an outbreak in those border communities, those exemptions will be lifted.

Police have converted heavy vehicle weigh stations to border check points.

SA declared a public health emergency on 15 March . Premier Steven Marshall told AAP the declaration would allow public health officers to take “all the necessary actions required to keep the people of South Australia as safe as we possibly can”.

The SA parliament this month passed new laws giving public health officers greater powers to order a person to self-isolate, be detained in a particular place or agree to medical testing.

Failure to comply with orders under the revised Public Health Act 2011 carries a maximum fine of $25,000.


On 19 March Tasmania announced state-specific quarantine measures, requiring everyone arriving in Tasmania or on Flinders or King Islands – whether they be a Tasmanian resident returning home, a domestic Australian traveller, or an international arrival – to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

The only exception is essential services, like health workers. Arrivals to Tasmania will be asked to fill in a new state-specific arrivals card, and will be told if they qualify as performing an essential service. From 23 March, travel on the Spirit of Tasmania was limited to residents and essential services.

The new penalty for breaching this quarantine, under a state of emergency that was also declared on 19 March, is a fine of $16,800 or six months jail.

Earlier, Tasmania followed other states in making an order to ban non-essential mass gatherings. That ban does not include markets, like Hobart’s Salamanca market, on the justification that those events involve people moving through and are therefore unlikely to result in someone having sustained close contact with a stranger. However school fetes and assemblies have been banned.

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