COVID 19 and Public Health Orders in NSW

The COVID-19 pandemic is without doubt the greatest global challenge in recent times. Since being declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11 March 2020, the social, health and economic fallout from the global pandemic has been felt by the entire world.

Australia’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Australian Government’s health response to the COVID-19 outbreak aims to minimise the number people being infected or sick with COVID-19, to minimise how sick people become, to minimise the death (mortality) rate, and to manage the demands on our health systems. This approach has also been mirrored by each respective State and Territory Governments.

Public Health Act 2010 (NSW)

The Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) was enacted by the NSW Government to legislate with respect to public health. This Legislation not only deals with general public health issues and risks to public health, but also environmental health concerns, drinking water, control of public swimming pools and spas, health services and other public health matters generally.

Part 2 of the Act deals with general public health and largely forms the basis of the NSW Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic regarding restrictions and dealing with health risks generally.

Section 7 of the Act gives the Minister the power to deal with public health risks generally. If the Minister considers, on reasonable grounds, that a situation has arisen that is, or likely to be a risk to public health, the minister may take such action and may by order give such directions as the minister considers necessary to deal with the risk and its possible consequences. Section 7 of the Act also empowers the Minister to declare any part of the State to be a public health risk area and, in that event, may contain such directions as the Minister considers necessary to:

  1. To reduce or remove any risk to public health in the area,
  2. To segregate or isolate inhabitants of the area,
  3. To prevent, or conditionally permit access to the area.

The recent ‘lockdown’ of the Greater Sydney area which commenced in June 2021, and the ‘lockdown’ of the Northern Beaches Local Government Area in late 2020 are examples of the Government’s exercise of power to declare parts of NSW to be public health risk areas and to impose harsh restrictions in the interests of public health and safety.

Section 8 of the Act empowers the Minister to direct all persons in a specified group, or all persons residing in a specified area for medical examination in accordance with an order. The NSW Government’s recent Public Health Order announced on 13 July 2021 requiring persons who are classified as essential workers from the Fairfield Local Government Area to submit to mandatory COVID-19 testing is one example of such a power being used.

Public Health Orders

To deal with the public health risk of COVID-19 and its possible consequences, the Minister for Health and Medical Research has made several Orders under section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010. Orders are amended frequently, sometimes daily. For the most up to date orders, it is important that you familiarise yourself by referring to the below informative links.

Consequences of Breach of Public Health Orders

Police have the power to issue on the spot fines and, in some cases, may charge persons with offences stemming from breaches of Public Health Orders. If you have been issued with an infringement notice or have been charged by the Police, it is important that you seek advice from one of our experienced lawyers.

More Information

In these challenging times, it is incumbent on Governments to provide timely, clear and easy to understand information. The constantly changing rules and their ambiguity has sparked controversy and criticism of the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks. It is important to remember that Public Health Orders are rapidly changing, often daily, and it is important to keep up to date with the latest Public Health Orders.

The Latest COVID-19 Rules

Information regarding the latest COVID-19 rules and what you can and can’t do and what you can or can’t visit can be found here.

Information Regarding Current Public Health Orders

Information regarding current Public Health Orders can be found here.

Exemptions to Public Health Orders

Information regarding exemptions to current Public Health Orders can be found here.

General Information Regarding COVID-19

General information regarding COVID-19 including current cases and exposure sites, vaccination and testing as well as employment and financial support can be found here.

Industry Guidelines for COVID Safe Workplaces

Information regarding Industry Guidelines for COVID Safe Workplaces can be found here.

The content contained within this guide is expressed as a general guide as to this area of law and is not intended to contain legal advice specific to an individual’s case. If you, or someone you know has been charged or has received a fine in relation to a COVID-19 or Public Health Order breach and require legal advice, do not hesitate to contact Australian Lawyers and Advocates to discuss this, or any criminal law matters further.


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