How the Australian Capital Territory Government’s Emergency Restrictions on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) work

9 October 2020

This resource explains the basis for, and extent of, the restrictions related to COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) as at 9 October 2020.

On 16 March 2020, the ACT Minister for Health declared a public health emergency for the ACT to combat the public health risk posed by COVID-19 (Emergency Declaration). This Emergency Declaration, which has been extended, will be in force until 19 November 2020.[1] The Health Minister can extend the Emergency Declaration for further 90-day periods.[2]

  Not in the Australian Capital Territory?

This resource explains emergency powers in the Australian Capital Territory. We also have resources for:

FEDERAL | VIC | NSW | QLD | SA | NT | TAS | WA

What is an Emergency Declaration?

An Emergency Declaration gives the Chief Health Officer broad powers to take any action or give any direction she considers necessary or desirable to alleviate the public health risk to the ACT community, posed by COVID-19.

The Emergency Declaration (and each subsequent extension) are declared using powers in the Public Health Act 1997 (ACT) (the Act).[3]

Public Health Powers under the Act

While an Emergency Declaration is in force, the Chief Health Officer has broad powers to take any action, or give any direction, which they consider necessary or desirable to alleviate the public health risk to the ACT community posed by COVID-19.

This includes actions or directions to:[4]

  • reduce, remove or destroy any threat to public health;
  • segregate or isolate people in an area;
  • evacuate any people from an area;
  • prevent or permit access to an area;
  • control the movement of a vehicle; and
  • placing a property, in or near any area to which the emergency relates, under the control or at the disposal of the Chief Health Officer;
  • make a person undergo a medical examination, either of a general nature or of a particular type, within a specified time; or
  • make a person remain in or move away from a specified area while the emergency remains in force;
  • make a person surrender any substance or thing in the person’s possession or control to an Authorised Person;[5]   or
  • make a person destroy or modify in a specified manner, a thing or substance in the person’s possession or control.

We will refer to these as the Public Health Emergency Powers.[6]

Refusing or failing to comply with a direction given by the Chief Health Officer, without a reasonable excuse could result in a fine.[7]

Who can use the Public Health Emergency Powers during the State of Emergency?

Only Authorised Persons can exercise the Public Health Emergency Powers. An Authorised Person includes:[8]

  • the Chief Health Officer;
  • a Public Health Officer authorised by the Chief Health Officer;
  • a member of the ambulance service;
  • a police officer; or
  • another person authorised to exercise the Public Health Emergency Powers by the Chief Health Officer.

While the Emergency Declaration is in force, Authorised Persons may use such reasonable force and assistance as is necessary to:

  • enter any place to save a person’s life, rescue an endangered person, or prevent injury;
  • prevent access to any place;
  • close any pedestrian path, road or other thoroughfare; or
  • remove from a place any person obstructing an Authorised Person in the exercise of a power.[9]

If the Authorised Person is on someone’s property and cannot produce the relevant identity card or authorisation upon request of the occupier, they must leave the property.[10]

What restrictions are in place in response to COVID-19?

At the time of publication, the Public Health Emergency Powers have been used to:

See the linked ACT Government explanations of these directions for further details.

If you are a community organisation, find out about how these restrictions impact your duties to employees and volunteers.

There are additional restrictions made through Federal Government powers. To understand those restrictions, see our Federal Government resource.

Penalties

Refusing or failing to comply with a direction under the Public Health Emergency Powers, without a reasonable excuse, could result in a fine of up to $8,000 for individuals and $40,500 for businesses.[17]

What to do if you or your family receive directions under the Emergency Powers

If you or your family are directed to do something using the Emergency Powers, you can get legal advice through Justice Connect.

Apply for legal help

If you have a legal problem related to COVID-19, apply for free legal help from Justice Connect.

Apply now

Accuracy

This resource is accurate as at 9 October 2020. You should review the ACT Government website for the most up to date information.

Jurisdiction

This is an ACT resource.

References

[1] Australian Capital Territory, Public Health (Emergency) Declaration Further Extension 2020 (No 11), 19 August 2020.

[2] An extension under section 119(4)(a) of the Public Health Act 1997 (ACT) (the Act) requires that a declaration must be revoked if the Minister decides, after taking into account the advice of the Chief Health Officer, that the COVID-19 declaration is no longer justified (see s 119(4A)).

[3] The declaration was made under s 198 of the Act, which gives the Health Minister the power to declare a public health emergency if satisfied that it is justified in the circumstances.

[4] The Act s 120.

[5] Authorised Person includes the Chief Health Officer; a public health officer authorised for the purpose of s 12A(1) of the Act; a member of the ambulance service; a police officer; or a person or class of persons authorised by the Chief Health Officer (see the Act ss 121(4) and (2)).

[6]  The Act s 120.

[7] The Act, s 120(4).

[8] The Act s 121(4).

[9] The Act s 121(1).

[10] The Act s 121(3).

[11] The Act s 120(1); Public Health (Restricted Activities –Gatherings, Business or Undertakings) Emergency Direction 2020 (No 11), 9 October 2020.

[12] As above.

[13] The Act s 120(1); Public Health (Returned Travellers) Emergency Direction 2020 (No 8), 9 October 2020.

[14] The Act s 120(1); Public Health (COVID-19 Interstate Travellers) Emergency Direction 2020 (No 2), 9 October 2020.

[15] The Act s 120(1); Public Health (Residential Aged Care Facilities) Emergency Direction (No 3), 26 June 2020.

[16] The Act s 120(1); Public Health (Self-Isolation) Emergency Direction 2020 (No 4), 9 October 2020.

[17] The Act s 120(3).

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