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Step by Step, Day by Day – the gradual easing of ‘Social Distancing’ measures in NSW

Step by Step, Day by Day – the gradual easing of ‘Social Distancing’ measures in NSW

Published on May 21, 2020 by Dexter CabalDexter Cabal

This is an update to my previous article: ‘Social Distancing’, the new norm (for now at least)[1]  published on the Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers website on 14 April 2020.  This article focuses on the easing of ‘Social Distancing’ measures in NSW.

Australia’s progress in ‘flattening the curve’

On Friday, 8 May 2020, the National Cabinet met to discuss plans for the easing of social distancing measures following Australia’s progress in flattening the nation’s COVID-19 infection curve.  The social distancing measures brought into effect by Australia’s States and Territories in March have been effective in curtailing the spread of COVID-19[2].  Focus has now simultaneously turned to getting Australia’s economy back up and running whilst safeguarding against a second (and potentially successive) surge in COVID-19 infections.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison outlined the National Cabinet’s Three Step Roadmap’ to a COVIDSafe Australia and advised that Australia’s States and Territories would make their own determinations as to the implementation of the ‘Three Step Roadmap’ based on local conditions.

As of Friday, 15 May 2020, an easing of social distancing measures has already begun in NSW.  The announcement of a Step One relaxation of social distancing in NSW prompted an unexpected recall – and looping in my head – of the theme song of a 90s American TV sitcom (Step by Step) that I used to watch when I was a child.

Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No.2) 2020 (NSW) 

The following is a summary of important takeaways of NSW’s Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No.2) 2020 (NSW) (the new ‘Order’) which commenced on 15 May 2020 and expires 90 days after it was made (that is, at the end of 14 August 2020) or such earlier date as specified in the Order

In NSW the following will now be allowed:

  • Up to 5 visitors may visit another household at any one time (Clause 8(2));
  • Public gatherings of up to 10 people (Clause 6(1));
  • Food and drink premises can open for the purpose of selling food and drinks, but only to seat a maximum of 10 persons on the premises at any one time (Clause 7(2)(a)) – this includes cafes and restaurants, a restaurant within a registered club or pub, or a cellar door that serves food. Any liquor sold is to be sold with or ancillary to food served in an eating area on the premises. Further, the occupier or operator of the premises is to ensure that there are 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises (Clause 8(1)(c)) so that physical distancing can be observed.  Selling food and drinks for takeaway is still allowed (Clause 7(2)(b));
  • Weddings can have up to 10 guests plus the people conducting or assisting in the conduct of the service, one photographer or one videographer, and the couple (Clause 6(3)(a)). The occupier or operator of the premises is to ensure that there are 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises;
  • Indoor funerals and memorial services can have up to 20 mourners (Clause 6(3)(b)), and outdoor funerals up to 30 mourners (Clause 6(3)(c)), excluding the persons necessary for the conduct of, or assisting in the conduct of, the service such as the funeral celebrant or minister of religion and funeral directors. The occupier or operator of the premises is to ensure that there are 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises;
  • Religious gatherings and places of worship can have up to 10 worshippers, excluding the persons necessary for the conduct of, or assisting in the conduct of, the service (Clause 6(3)(d)). Again, the occupier or operator of the premises is to ensure that there are 4 square metres of space for each person on the premises;
  • Outdoor pools can open with restrictions – no more than 10 persons to swim in the pool at any time (Clause 7(3)(f));

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

  • An employer must allow an employee to work at the person’s place of residence where it is reasonably practicable to do so (Clause 5); and
  • There is still a prohibition on taking holidays in regional areas of NSW (Clause 9) but, that will soon change with the announcement made by the NSW Government on 19 May 2020 that regional travel in NSW for any reason (including holidays) will be allowed from 1 June 2020.

There is an understandable temptation now for residents of NSW to take advantage of relaxed freedoms of movement and association with up to 5 visitors being permitted to visit another household, as well as the forthcoming freedom to be able to take a holiday within NSW borders from 1 June 2020.  Exercising caution and a continued focus on safety and maintaining personal hygiene will be of vital importance now more than ever.

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 of 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.

Step by Step, Day by Day

It is clear that NSW residents will now have increased freedoms to be ‘out and about’, and to reconnect with friends and family more freely (saving a lot of people from ‘Zoom fatigue’).  A word of caution from NSW’s Premier, Gladys Berejiklian should be taken on board regarding the regained freedoms:

“I know some may even have already started enjoying the new freedoms that come with easing restrictions today but that also comes with personal responsibility and [I] can’t stress that enough.

Easing restrictions have failed in so many places around the world and I don’t want that to happen in NSW, I want people to have personal responsibility for the way we respond, let’s do our part in keeping everybody safe so that we can keep moving forward so that we never go backwards.”

The message from the top is clear: Don’t be complacent. Containing the spread of COVID-19 and avoiding a second (and successive) wave of outbreak is key to public health and safety as well as ensuring that the Roadmap to the economic recovery in NSW and Australia is given the best possible chance.  There’s that TV show theme song looping in my head again (this could get annoying, fast):

“Step by Step

Day by Day

A fresh start over

A different hand to play

The deeper we fall

The stronger we stay

A we’ll be better

The second time around …”

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