Australia’s strict new coronavirus social distancing rules explained: state by state guidelines | World news

On Sunday night the prime minister announced the tightening of restrictions to try to stop the spread of Covid-19, gatherings are limited to a maximum of two people.

But several states have gone much further while others have opted not to follow the new recommendations.

So, what are the laws as they currently stand?

This article will be updated as new laws are implemented or repealed.


Queensland has announced a state of emergency, and along with enforcing the two-person limit, residents are now only allowed to leave their home for one of eight essential reasons. These are:

  • Obtaining food or other essential goods or services

  • Obtaining medical treatment or other health care services

  • Engaging in physical exercise, either alone or in the company of no more than one other person; or in the company of a family group who ordinarily live in the same household

  • Performing work on behalf of an employer that is engaged in essential business, activity or undertaking, and the work to be performed is of a nature that cannot reasonably be performed from the person’s principal place of residence

  • Visiting a terminally ill relative or to attend a funeral

  • Providing assistance, care or support to an immediate member of the person’s family

  • Attending any court of Australia or to comply with or give effect to orders of the court

  • Attending a childcare facility, school, university, or other educational institution, to the extent care or instruction cannot reasonably be obtained in the person’s principal place of residence

Queensland also restricts gatherings of more than two people. This applies both in public and private area but exempts members of the same household.

This means someone can still socialise with the family or roommates they live with, but if there are more than two people in the home, no visitors are allowed.

If someone lives alone they are allowed one social guest. That guest is allowed to leave their home to visit.

If someone leaves their house for an essential reason, such as exercise, they can be joined by only one other person or the members of their household.

Queensland police officers will be able to issue on the spot fines of $1,334.50 for individuals and $6,672.50 for corporations, who breach these laws. The maximum penalties available through the courts will be 10 times those amounts.

New South Wales

As of 12am Tuesday, NSW residents now legally have to stay in their homes unless they have a “reasonable excuse” for leaving.

“Reasonable excuses” are broadly categorised as:

  • obtaining food or other goods and services

  • travelling for the purposes of work or education if the person cannot do it at home

  • exercise

  • medical or caring reasons.

The full list of reasonable excuses can be found here

Movement is also allowed for the purpose of moving in to a new home or inspecting a potential new home, providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person or in an emergency, and undertaking legal obligations, accessing government services, or donating blood. Exemptions also exist for priests or members of religious orders, and where someone is escaping potential injury, illness, or harm.

Children who live across two households can continue to switch between houses.

NSW has also adopted the two-person gathering limit.

The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller foreshadowed that police would be on the streets to enforce these new rules.

The new laws were published late on Monday night. They allow for fines of up to $11,000 or six months imprisonment for those who leave the home without a reasonable excuse, plus an additional $5,500 fine each day the offence continues. Fines for businesses are higher still.

It appears it will be left to police officers’ discretion who will receive a fine.



Victoria has adopted a similar system.

Residents can only leave the house for one of five essential reasons. These are:

  • shopping for food or other essential goods and services

  • Work and education

  • Care and compassionate reasons

  • Exercise

  • Other extenuating circumstances

A full break down of these reasons can be found here.

The two-person gathering rules also apply inside and outside the home. They exclude family members and roommates that live in the same household.

Police officers are responsible for deciding who will receive penalties.

These include on the spot fines of up to $1,652 for individuals and $9,913 for business. Larger fines and even the possibility of criminal charges are also available.

Premier Daniel Andrews says this new wave of restrictions is part of the state’s “stage three” shut down.


Tasmania has implemented a similar system, individuals only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons and gathering limited to two people. However there more scope for exemptions from these rules than in other states.

Reason for Tasmanians to go out in public include –

  • Shopping for supplies

  • Undertaking personal exercise

  • Attending medical, or health care, appointments or for medical treatment

  • Seeking veterinary services

  • Providing social support, or care, to another person

  • Attending school or study, if unable to be done at home

  • Attending work, or volunteering, if unable to be done at home

  • Performing essential maintenance, or security inspections, of other premises owned or occupied, by the person

  • Attending another location if the person has a reasonable excuse, in the opinion of the Director of Public Health.

An example of a “reasonable excuse” given by the premier’s office was clearing out a recently deceased relative’s house.

Tasmania also restricts gathering of more than two people inside and outside the home, however, they have a broad definition of exempted “social support”. This allows families to visit one another’s homes, couples who live apart to stay at each other’s residences, and those who live alone to have visitors.

However, in public, the two-person gathering limit is strictly applied.

Australian Defence Force members, The Tasmanian State Emergency Service, and Fire Service volunteers have been enlisted to help carry out spot checks.

Fines could be as much as $16,800 or six months in jail.

Western Australia

While Western Australia premier Mark McGowan has announced “stage three” restrictions, they do not appear to be as strict as Victoria’s third stage.

WA will not be fining residents for leaving thier homes for non-essential reasons, however, the premier still urged residents to stay home where ever possible.

The state has followed federal recommendations of limiting gatherings to no more than two people, both inside and outside the home. This exempts those living in the same house, weddings and funerals.

Legislation will enter parliament this week to allow police officers to issue on the spot fines for those who do not comply, however, fines of up to $50,000 dollars are currently available through the courts.

The premier said drones will also be used to break up gatherings, flying over beaches, parks and other likely social hotspots and broadcasting messages about social distancing rules through speakers.

WA has opted where they can to tighten restriction at borders rather than inside the state.

Currently, those entering must quarantine for fourteen days, however, it’s believed a harder board shut down will be introduced later in the week.

Australian Capital Territory

In a statement the Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, said the ACT would also enforce the two-person limit and residents can only leave their home for certain essential reasons, which they state to be:

  • shopping for what you need – food and necessary supplies

  • medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements

  • exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements

  • work and study if you can’t work or learn remotely

The statement said ACT police officers would be issuing a warning in the first instance if a person did not comply. It did not specify what the penalties would be.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory announced it would not be enforcing the two-person gathering rules.

Chief minister, Michael Gunner, said it would stick to the 10-person limit for now but would bring in stricter laws if people did not follow social distancing rules.

“If the police need to go around enforcing a lower limit, they will, but we expect Territorians will do the right thing and save our police the time and hassle,” he said.

South Australia

While South Australia is considering implementing two-person gathering limits, currently on the spot fines of $100 are only for those gathering in groups of more than 10.

Are there different rules for those aged over 70?

The federal government has strongly recommended that anyone over the age of 70 should go into self-isolation. That means not interacting in person with anyone outside their home and leaving the house only if absolutely necessary.

The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, also stressed this in a press conference on Monday.

“Especially to our older Australians, the older people, if you’re over 70, you shouldn’t leave home at all,” she said. “I know this is difficult and I appreciate that for some parts of the day, people might want to get out and exercise. That is OK, so long as you don’t come into contact with anybody else.”

However, for the time being, this would remain a recommendation and those who did not comply would not be fined or penalised.

The prime minister also recommended those over the age of 60 with chronic illness and Indigenous people over 50 do the same.