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At the Crossroads: amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) 2020 (NSW)

At the Crossroads: amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) 2020 (NSW)

Published on July 20, 2020

*   This is an update to the Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers series of articles by Dexter Cabal on COVID-19 gathering and movement restrictions in NSW.

The past week has seen growing concern about the current levels of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in the community, particularly in Victoria and in parts of NSW.  Since my last article was published on the Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers website on 3 July 2020, the Victorian Government has announced Level 3 restrictions for all of metropolitan Melbourne and for the Mitchell Shire and mandatory wearing of facemasks in all restricted areas when in public[1]. There have also since been a number of reported cases in south-western Sydney, including cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel and Planet Fitness in Casula, the Picton Hotel, the Macarthur Tavern, Wests Leagues Club and, the Stocklands Mall at Wetherill Park. The South Coast of NSW is also now the focus of another potential cluster.[2]

NSW’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty called on NSW residents to “redouble their efforts to stop the virus spreading” and outlined a number of new recommendations and flagged concerns about people attending hotels, restaurants, gyms and social gatherings:

“People are urged to avoid non-essential travel and gatherings. Of particular concern is transmission in venues such as hotels and restaurants, the gym and social gatherings. We are calling on people across the state to take extra care and follow these steps”.[3]

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance urged people to walk or cycle to work and school if possible, saying there was an “inherent risk” to travelling on public transport.[4]

Consequently, with the increased risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the NSW Government again tightened restrictions on gathering and movement by way of amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No.4) 2020 (NSW) (the amended ‘Order’) after easing restrictions just two weeks ago; NSW is certainly at the crossroads now.

Commencing 17 July 2020, the notable amendments to the Order are:

For Pubs

  • The occupier of a pub must ensure that the maximum number of persons on the premises is the lesser of:

(a)   the number of persons that is equivalent to one person per 4 square metres of space in the premises, or

(b)   300 persons (Clause 8A(1));

  • The occupier of the pub must ensure that –

(a) no individual group entering or on the premises consists of more than 10 persons, and

(b)   an individual booking or reservation for a group entering or on the premises does not consist of more than 10 persons (Clause 8A(2)).

  • The occupier of the pub must ensure that a COVID-19 Safety Plan for the pub is registered with the NSW Government (Clause 7(2));
  • A person entering the premises of a pub must, if required to do so by the occupier of the pub, provide the person’s contact details to the occupier (Clause 22(1)(d)). The occupier of the pub premises must require the person entering the pub premises to provide the person’s contact details (Clause 22(2)(a)).

Further measures applicable for pubs include:

  • Special hygiene marshals dressed in distinctive clothing will be required to oversee social distancing, cleaning and hygiene for the venue.
  • Pubs with a capacity of more than 250 people will be required to have a marshal on duty whenever they are open.
  • For smaller venues, which hold less than 250 patrons, a marshal must be employed in peak periods, from noon to 3:00pm, and 5:00pm to 9:00pm.
  • A paper sign-in system for patrons will still be permitted, but venues will have to create a digital record of patron names and phone numbers within 24 hours. Venues will also be encouraged to strongly promote QR code sign-in.

For Funerals and Memorial Services

  • The occupier of (a place of worship, or a funeral home, or a crematorium) premises must not allow more than 50 persons to be on the premises for a funeral or memorial service, or a gathering immediately after a funeral or memorial service, if the size of the premises is insufficient to ensure there is at least 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises (Clause 9(2)).

The following points are further important takeaways of the current Order:

  • An employer must allow an employee to work at the employee’s place of residence where it is reasonably practicable to do so (Clause 6).
  • Up to 20 visitors may visit another household at any one time (Clause 11(1)), however, it has been strongly recommended by the NSW Government that home visitors be capped at 10 visitors “as a general principle”.
  • A person must not participate in an outdoor public gathering of more than 20 people (Clause 18).
  • Schedule 1 of the Order provides for a list of Premises requiring a COVID-19 Safety Plan.
  • Schedule 2 lists Exempted gatherings.

Section 10 of the Public Health Act 2010 creates an offence if an individual fails to comply with the Order with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 6 months or a fine of up to $11,000 (or both) plus a further $5,500 fine each day the offence continues.  Corporations that fail to comply with a direction are liable to a fine of $55,000 and $27,500 each day the offence continues.

At the Crossroads

The compliance measures introduced to pubs from 17 July 2020 will be extended to restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs this week on Friday, 24 July 2020. As with pubs, these venues must have COVID-Safe registration with the NSW Government that includes a safety plan covering hygiene, physical distancing, the recording of contact details of staff and customers and staff wellbeing.

In the span of just two weeks, NSW has transitioned from easing of restrictions to one of reverting back to advocating for safety and the containment of the COVID-19 virus. NSW is currently at the crossroads, trying to find the right way to strike the balance of promoting economic recovery and at the same time ensuring public safety.  No doubt this will not be the last time it will be at this junction.

Watch this space for further updates in the coming week.

Dexter Cabal’s updated article on COVID-19 gathering and movement restrictions in NSW is available to read here.

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