How the Federal Government’s Emergency Restrictions on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) work

15 October 2020

This resource explains the basis for, and extent of, the Federal Government’s restrictions relating to COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) as at 15 October 2020.

On 18 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced the Governor-General had declared a human biosecurity emergency to respond to the risks the COVID-19 pandemic poses to human health and the need to control its spread in Australia.[1]

  Looking for resources for a specific state?

This resource explains the Federal Government’s powers, but the states and territories have different laws responding to COVID-19 which restrict what you can do. Find out about the restrictions in your jurisdiction:

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

What is a human biosecurity emergency?

Under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) (the Act) a human biosecurity emergency can be declared where it is reasonably necessary to prevent or control disease posing a severe and immediate threat of harm.[2]

The Act allows for a human biosecurity emergency period to be as long as necessary to prevent or control COVID-19, but no longer than three months.[3] However, the human biosecurity emergency period may be varied or extended for up to three months, and the three month extension can be used more than once.[4]

An extension may only occur where the Health Minister is satisfied that COVID-19 continues to pose a severe and immediate threat, or cause harm on a national scale, and the extension is necessary to prevent or control the entry, emergence, establishment or spread of COVID-19 in Australia.

Powers under the Act

The human biosecurity emergency declaration gives the Federal Health Minister broad powers to determine any emergency requirements or give any direction to any person where the Federal Health Minister is satisfied the direction is necessary to prevent or control the spread of COVID-19.[5]

The first emergency requirement made under these powers was announced on 18 March 2020, where the Prime Minister made a declaration to formally prohibit international cruise ships from entering Australian ports for 30 days.[6]

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

The National Cabinet has imposed the following restrictions:

All other restrictions are controlled by the states and territories. To understand those restrictions, see our state and territory resources.

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


Refusing or failing to comply with a direction or requirement made under the Act may result in up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000.[7]

If you receive a fine, you should seek legal advice.

What to do if you or your family receive directions

If you or your family are directed to do something using the powers outlined in this resource, 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


This resource is accurate as at 15 October 2020. You should review the Prime Minister’s website for the most up to date information.


This is a resource outlining the Federal measures in place.


[1] This declaration is made on recommendation of the Health Minister, see Prime Minister of Australia media alerts, 18 March 2020.

[2] Biosecurity Act s 475 (the Act).

[3] The Act s 475(4).

[4] The Act s 476.

[5] The Act ss 477 and 478.

[6] Prime Minister of Australia media alerts, 18 March 2020.

[7] The Act s 479.

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