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COVID-19: What are the public health rules now?

Physical distancing and handwashing are still the order of the day but socialising, in moderation, and gathering in (small) groups outdoors are back in our tentative post-ISO world. With the number of COVID-19 cases relatively low compared with most other nations, the federal government has provided a three-step roadmap for states and territories to start carefully relaxing some restrictions on our movement.

The usual “common sense” caveats remain.

“Regulation can achieve things but every individual has to do more than regulation,” says Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy.

Social distancing and hand hygiene are key ways to prevent a dreaded second wave of infections.

“So if you’re going to a shopping centre to buy something, go and buy something but don’t hang around the shopping centre for half-an-hour mingling for no purpose – go home,” Murphy said on May 10.

“If you are arriving at a shopping centre and you find a crowd at an escalator not wanting to practise social distancing or crowding together, don’t go in – leave, come back later.

“If you see someone not practising social distancing or behaving irresponsibly, tell them. If a lift opens and you find it’s full of people, don’t get in.”

The difference between states’ approaches remains too, with Victoria and NSW still on the tougher side but then, as Premier Daniel Andrews has noted, “this is a pandemic, not a popularity contest”. And countries such as Singapore and South Korea are offering us clear warnings about the surges of cases that can come with relaxing rules.

Here is the federal government roadmap – and read on to find out how your state has opted to ease restrictions.

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New South Wales

Update: Beauty salons can reopen from June 1

Beauty, waxing, tanning and nail salons can begin treatments from June 1. “Of all of the requests I’ve had as Health Minister in the last three months, this has been the one that I think has topped the barrel,” said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Update: Happy hour is back, sort of

Pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to have up to 50 patrons from June 1.  They will have to continue to adhere to the “one person every four-square-metre” rule. “There is no mingling, no standing around,” said Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “You have to be seated as a table, even if it’s at a pub.”

Household visits have now moved from two to five people at a time, including children. Ms Berejiklian has said, “The combination is up to you but the five people, I want to stress, includes children, so it can be five adults or two adults and three children.” You must maintain social distancing – which means staying 1.5 metres from others.

Instead of five wedding guests, 10 are now allowed as well as the people conducting or assisting in the conduct of the service, a photographer, a videographer, and the couple. Indoor funerals will be allowed up to 20 mourners and up to 30 for outdoor funerals. Religious gatherings and places of worship can have up 10 worshippers.

Any other outdoor gatherings can have up to 10 people. Children can return to the playground and people can work out on the outdoor gym equipment in parks but caution is urged.

Outdoor pools can have no more than 10 people at a time and no more than one person per lane. Change areas will be closed.

Museums, galleries and libraries will open from June 1.

There are no limits on travel within the state for work, school, exercise or visiting family and friends but you may not travel to regional NSW for a holiday. If you’re travelling for work, you’re advised to avoid peak hour.

NSW will be encouraging regional travel from June 1.

From Monday, May 25

The NSW government aims to return children to school full-time.

See here for more details.

– Sarah Keoghan

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Victoria

Update: rules easing from June 1

  • Victorians will be allowed gatherings of up to 20 people in their homes, including the members of a household. For a family of five, that means 15 visitors.
  • Public gatherings (indoor and outdoor) will increase to 20 people.
  • Cafes, restaurants and pubs may serve meals to up to 20 people.
  • Overnight stays will be allowed in both private residences and hotels.
  • Campgrounds, caravan parks and tourist accommodation allowed to reopen, as long as shared bathroom and kitchen facilities are not used.
  • Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, spas, tattoo parlours and massage parlours may reopen with up to 20 patrons.
  • Galleries, museums, zoos, historic sites, arcades, drive-in cinemas and outdoor amusement parks will reopen with up to 20 patrons per space.
  • Weddings will be allowed up to 20 people, plus the celebrant and couple.
  • Funerals can increase to 50 people (indoors and outdoors).
  • Religious services may increase to up to 20 people, plus those required to conduct the ceremony.
  • Bootcamps can increase to 20 people, plus an instructor.
  • Auction houses, real estate auctions and open house inspections can increase to 20 people.
  • Libraries, youth centres and other community facilities allowed to reopen with no more than 20 people in a single area, plus those needed to operate the space.
  • Indoor and outdoor swimming pools can be opened to a maximum of 20 patrons per separate enclosed space and a limit of three people per lane in each pool. – Rachael Dexter 

Pubs, cafes and restaurantst tables will need to be 1.5 metres apart from June 1 and businesses must abide by physical distancing requirements of one person per four square metres. Patrons will have to give their names for potential contact tracing in case an outbreak occurs at the venue. From June 22, this could increase to 50 patrons and, by mid-July, up to 100, Premier Daniel Andrews has said. In the meantime, it’s still takeaway only.

When public health rules first came into force, Victorians (as with other Australians) could leave home for only four reasons: to get food and supplies, medical care, to exercise (in maximum groups of two) or for work or education. Now there’s a fifth reason: visiting friends and family.

Five guests are allowed in homes before June 1.

Ten people are allowed to gather in public. Victorians can, say, have a kick of footy with up to 10 people but close contact isn’t allowed. They can return to the golf course – but shouldn’t share a golf buggy with anyone who lives outside their household and should stay 1.5 metres away from other golfers at holes. And fishing is allowed – but you have to socially distant so care is urged with how many people you put in a boat.

In the case of recreation activities that are also exercise, the government says, you can resume these activities if:

  • you are not participating in an organised competition; and
  • it is a non-contact activity and you can keep 1.5 metres between yourself and others; and
  • you do not participate in the activity for an unreasonable period of time.

Religious gatherings, auctions and open-house inspections are all back on the menu – but only for up to 10 people. Professional sports teams, including AFL clubs, are allowed to return to training too.

For funerals, 20 people can attend indoors and 30 outdoors.

Victorians should continue to keep working from home where possible, at least until the end of June. Premier Daniel Andrews had this to say on return to work: “It is the view of the Chief Health Officer and his team that if we have literally millions of people returning to office environments and other places of work, where they don’t need to be there, pressing lift buttons, opening doors, congregating in kitchens, sharing bathrooms – all the natural, normal things that happen which you can’t really protect against – that presents the biggest risk for the stability that we have experienced in our numbers to date.”

Shops are open with social distancing but the government says to shop only if necessary.

Public playgrounds, pools, outdoor gym equipment and caravan parks stay out of bounds. National parks are open again but no camping is allowed.

Prep, grade one and two and year 11 and 12 will go back to school on May 26.
Years three to 10 will return on June 9. Staff older than 65 with a medical condition or any with compromised immunity and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff aged over 50 also have an exception and can work from home. School drop-offs and lunch breaks will be staggered to minimise crowding. Schools will be cleaned and sanitised more. Kids will not be able to drink from water fountains.

See here for details of the new easing of restrictions.

– Michael Fowler, Anthony Colangelo, Summeya Ilanbey

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Queensland

Queenslanders can have a maximum of five visitors to their home, who can be from different households. They can gather in groups of up to 10, from any household, in settings including parks, restaurants, cafes, beauty salons and public libraries. This means it’s OK to play outdoor, non-contact sport like tai chi or golf; and it’s OK to go to the park, playground or skate park. Pools and parks are open; and open homes and auctions will be able to be staged with the 10-person limit.

Weddings can have 10 guests while funerals are allowed up to 20 mourners for an indoor service and 30 in total for an outdoor function.

You can’t travel more than 150 kilometres from your home for recreational day trips. Overnight stays are not allowed at this stage. In outback areas, some of which have not seen a single COVID-19 case at any stage of the pandemic, the above restrictions are in place but with limits of 20 people; and people can travel up to 500 kilometres from their home for recreational activities.

See answers to commonly asked questions here.

Schools have started a staggered reopening with all kindergarten, prep and year 1 students as well as year 11 and 12 students returning to classes. Most schools are developing pick-up and drop-off procedures to maintain social distancing at the school gate.

From Monday, May 25

The remaining primary and high-school year levels are allowed back in full.

From Friday, June 12

At 11:59pm, restrictions will be eased even further under stage two of the national roadmap, including

  • Gatherings at homes with a maximum of 20 visitors
  • Dining in at restaurants, pubs, clubs, cafes and RSLs for up to 20 patrons at a time and an option for more with an approved COVID-safe plan
  • Holiday travel within your home region.

From Friday, July 10

At 11:59pm, stage three of the national roadmap will include

  • Gatherings of up to 100 people at homes, cafes, restaurants, bars, places of worship, cinemas, galleries, gyms, funerals and weddings
  • Nightclubs, tattoo parlours and casinos to open
  • Hiking and camping allowed in national and state parks.

The Premier has said she will look at reopening borders, although that would be dependent on how other states are dealing with their case numbers.

It is expected that, by this stage, travel within Queensland will be almost totally unrestricted, with the government urging people to consider taking a holiday to help bolster the tourism industry.

See the Queensland Government’s roadmap here.

– Stuart Layt, Danielle Cronin

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Western Australia

By the time Premier Mark McGowan announced an easing of social gathering restrictions to up to 10 people from April 27, many locals were ready to break out the bubbly and party. More easing has followed.

As of May 18, non-work gatherings, indoor and outdoor, are capped at 20 people. Cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, community clubs and casinos can have up to 20 dine-in patrons, both inside and outside, as long as they still observe the four-square-metre rule. A pub can serve a drink only with a meal. Reopening pubs just for drinking will be considered for a later phase. Recognising that some businesses will not have the space to accommodate 20 people while still observing the four-square-metre rule, the government will look to relax laws to help restaurants expand alfresco areas.

Weddings and funerals are capped at 20 attendees indoors, 30 for outdoors.

Places of worship, community facilities and libraries reopen for no more than 20 attendees.

Non-contact community sports are capped at 20 people, indoor or outdoor. Yes, people can kick a ball to each other. They are encouraged to keep such equipment as clean as possible.

Fitness classes are capped at 20 people, indoor or outdoor. Only those with minimal shared equipment such as yoga or dance (no spin classes).

Public pools are open but only for 20 patrons per pool, one indoor and one outdoor. Further rules apply.

Retailers are encouraged to reopen in accordance with the 20-person, four-square-metre rules.

Employees are encouraged to return to work unless unwell or in a vulnerable category as previously defined. The 20-person rule need not be observed but employers are expected to continue to observe increased hygiene and physical distancing.

Travel becomes easier with 13 bordered regions reduced to just four. The Perth/Peel borders incorporate the South West, Wheatbelt and Great Southern. The Mid-West, Gascoyne and Pilbara form another bordered region while the Kimberley and Goldfields remain segregated, except for the Commonwealth’s biosecurity zone. A big part of those decisions rested on the vulnerability of the Indigenous communities, as well as the Goldfields having one of the last active cases of the virus.

But the state’s hard border to overseas and interstate travellers remains in place, which requires anyone entering WA to go into quarantine for 14 days.

All public state schools are open, with an average 74 per cent of students attending in mid-May, thanks largely to special measures and cleaning in place to reduce the risk of infections and spread.

From mid-June
Changes are likely to include further relaxation of the restrictions on social gatherings, cafes, weddings, funerals, restaurants, regional travel, pubs, playgrounds and outdoor gym equipment, skate parks, beauty salons, cinemas, gyms, indoor sports, health clubs, real estate auctions, zoos, galleries, museums and concert venues.

Later changes
Western Australia’s hard state border would probably be the last restriction lifted. Rottnest Island will remain a quarantine centre for the time being.

For more details, see the WA Government’s roadmap here.

– Emma Young, Aja Styles

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Tasmania

Premier Peter Gutwein’s message on “Fortress Tasmania” has been consistent: the state will “continue to march to the beat of our own drum” on social restrictions. Tasmania was the first state in Australia to enforce a lockdown. As of March 19, all “non-essential” travellers, including returning residents, were made to quarantine at home for 14 days. This soon changed to hotel quarantine, such as for returning international travellers in Sydney and Melbourne. Tasmanians were told to leave their holiday shacks, too, as authorities door-knocked and issued fines to those in regional and coastal communities without good reason.

In early April, north-west Tasmania had one of Australia’s earliest and largest significant outbreaks, leading to 5000 people spending 14 days in isolation. Gutwein imposed the “toughest restrictions in the country” on the region, with non-essential businesses shut and visitors banned.

Rules began to ease from May 11 as Tasmania recorded three days without a new case. Visits to aged care facilities eased, allowing up to two people to visit once a week. National parks and reserves re-opened for residents to exercise within 30 metres of their homes.

On May 11, funeral limits increased from 10 to 20, and aged care visits opened to two visitors, once per week. State border restrictions remained in place, including bans on regional travel – but exercise is now allowed up to 30 kilometres from home.

As of May 18, public gathering limits increase from two to 10, and up to five for household visits.

Gatherings of up to 10 people (including for weddings and religious gatherings) are allowed. Shops are open but there are limits of 10 patrons in beauty services, restaurants and cafes, including restaurants in pubs, hotels and RSLs.

From Monday, May 25

Primary school, plus year 11 and 12 students, will return to classrooms with all remaining students in years 7 to 10 back on June 9. Students at high risk of illness will be supported to learn at home for all of term 2.

From Monday, June 15
Public gatherings, including restaurants, cinemas, museum, religious gatherings and weddings will be increased to 20. The number of visitors to households will also be reviewed on that date.

See the government’s recovery roadmap here.

– Michael Fowler

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South Australia

Update: Restrictions lifted earlier than planned

  • From May 22, indoor (as well as outdoor) dining at cafes and restaurants will be allowed for up to 10 people and alcohol can be served.
  • The state will move to stage two on Friday, June 5, before the long weekend.  

South Australians are reaping the rewards for their impressive suppression of coronavirus, enjoying the return of many freedoms ahead of other states. Between April 11 and May 11, there were just 11 cases in the state, and only one after April 22.

The state’s most notable restriction was the closing of its state borders on March 24, like Queensland and Western Australia, with any visitors required to self-isolate for 14 days. On March 27, a 10-person limit on gatherings was introduced. While Premier Steven Marshall encouraged South Australians to follow two-person gathering laws, the state didn’t enforce them with fines as other states did. School students returned to school as usual on April 27 while, at universities and TAFEs, face-to-face learning was allowed to resume from May 11.

Visits from up to 10 people are allowed as long as there is enough space to keep 1.5 metres apart and four square metres per person indoors. As of May 11, regional travel is being encouraged and camp grounds and caravan parks were re-opened, making South Australia the first state to do so. Auction and home inspections have restarted while up to 30 mourner can attend an outdoor funeral. Public swimming pools and places of worship have reopened, although gathering numbers of maximum 10 still apply.

From Friday, June 5
The plan is to open cinemas, gyms, galleries and museums, with maximum gathering numbers increased to 20. “We’ve done well. But let’s not become complacent as we enter this next stage,” the Premier has said. “We do not want to go backwards.”

See more details here.

– Michael Fowler

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ACT

Household visits are capped at 10 people both inside and outside with social distancing. Weddings can have 10 attendees while 20 people can attend an indoor funeral and 30 an outdoor one. Boot camps can take place outdoors with a maximum of 10 people. And a 10-person limit also applies to places of worship. Cafes and restaurants have reopened for 10 seated guests.

ACT Health is advising Canberrans to travel outside of the Canberra region only to visit family and friends for the purpose of providing care and support. Two adults and any dependent children can leave the ACT and enter New South Wales for the purposes of providing care and support.

Playgrounds, dog parks and outdoor gym equipment reopened too as well as some national parks and reserves. Community centres and halls can host gatherings of up to 10 people and libraries will begin to open their doors again.

Students have begun a staggered return to public schools.

See more detail here.

– Sarah Keoghan

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Northern Territory

With just 30 cases of COVID-19, the territory was the jurisdiction least affected in Australia. It also quickly became the most envied, after NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced on April 29 that pubs could reopen on May 15. His exact words were “May 15 date night; June 5 Sunday sesh.” Pubs have been serving alcohol with meals but will be able to properly reopen with a two-hour limit from June 5. With no deaths to date in the state, it seems the state’s Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie has had much to be pleased about, with his “social distancing dance” going viral on social media.

Since May 1, there have been no limits on household visits, although social distancing must be upheld. Weddings and funerals have no limit as long as social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Playgrounds, parks and reserves will also be reopened. Public swimming pools and water parks also have the green light, and NT residents are allowed to go fishing with friends and play golf. You can shop at your leisure but thre’s no eating at food courts just yet. Pubs, restaurants, cafes are serving takeaway food and drink only.

People are already allowed to visit parks, reserves and campgrounds but are being encouraged to travel only if well.

The state government has told parents that students are expected to attend school in term two.

Meanwhile, restaurants, clubs and bars, beauty parlours, masseuses, indoor religious gatherings, libraries, museums and outdoor sports training are allowed to open with a two-hour limit and strict social distancing.

Tourism attractions and wildlife parks can reopen as can on-site indoor and outdoor guided tours and live shows. Any indoor guided activity must run for less than two hours.

On June 5, the two-hour limit will be removed. Team sport will resume and gaming venues, cinemas, theatres, nightclubs and other entertainment venues will reopen.

See more here.

– Sarah Keoghan

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