On a crucial weekend for Australia’s efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, leaders have warned there will be no tolerance for breaches of strict self-isolation measures.
- Health Minister Greg Hunt says Easter is the “most important weekend we may face in the whole course of the virus”
- State authorities will be strictly enforcing the self-isolation measures which have helped bring the virus spread under control in Australia
- This includes the use of helicopters, police patrols of holiday destinations and numberplate scanning technology
Australia’s containment controls — including the mandatory quarantine of international visitors, closed state borders and fines for people being outside without a valid reason — have helped “flatten the curve” and resulted in fewer than 100 new cases in 24 hours for the first time in three weeks.
But Health Minister Greg Hunt warned the Easter weekend was not a time to ease the restrictions.
“As we go into Easter with welcome news for Australia, the virus does not take a holiday, therefore none of us can relax and what we do,” he said.
“This in many ways is the most important weekend we may face in the whole course of the virus.
“If we can lock in the gains that we’ve made as a nation through the courage and sacrifice of those on the health, medical and policing frontlines, but also through the immense goodwill and discipline of Australians, then we can help really protect Australian lives going forward and give ourselves the pathway through.”
The restrictions will apply to visits to the beach, attending church services, going interstate or holding large family gatherings.
‘The gloves come off’
Each state and territory has announced its own penalties and fines for breaching the restrictions on gatherings of more than two people, except in specific circumstances.
State governments have issued strong warnings that police will have helicopters in the air, patrols of holiday destinations and will be using numberplate technology this weekend to find people who are gathering in large groups or who are a long way from their homes.
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It comes after several flagrant breaches of the restrictions — including 58 COVID-19 fines for a car rally south of Brisbane, a party at a Sunshine Coast hotel and a man escaping enforced self-isolation in a hotel in Perth and travelling around the city.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein warned “the gloves [had] come off”, announcing a statewide blitz this weekend, including the use of helicopters and police visits to holiday shacks, after reports people were taking campers and trailers to the coast.
“We still have Tasmanians that are flouting the rules,” he said.
“I have been fair, I have been reasonable and I have taken every step and every precaution that we can to save lives. But we will only save lives if Tasmanians follow the rules.
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“Today we’ll be putting helicopters up. There will be eyes in the sky.”
Officers in Victoria will also be checking holidays destinations to enforce compliance, Police Minister Lisa Neville said.
“You can’t go to an Airbnb, you can’t camp, you can’t caravan, you can’t boat, you can’t fish. Those are very clear rules,” she said.
“You can’t catch up with friends or family that don’t currently live with you.”
Queensland has introduced a permit for residents returning to the state, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warning “now is not the time to go into New South Wales” and refusing to rule out stricter border controls.
Police Commissioner Katrina Carroll said there were still too many people trying to use beaches, which were closed to “out-of-towners”.
“Last weekend we had so many people descend onto the Gold Coast that those social distancing measures were so extraordinarily difficult to enforce, people were still sunbaking, congregating, and this is what we want to avoid,” she said.
“What we’re saying is please can you just stay home for these next few weeks. You can still get out and do your exercise, but do it locally.
New South Wales Arts Minister Don Harwin was forced to apologise and return to Sydney after being sprung at his Central Coast holiday house, despite bans on non-essential travel.
The state has also announced $5,000 fines for people who deliberately spit or cough on frontline workers in response to reports of abuse and assault towards people in uniform.
Police around Australia have already issued hundreds of fines for breaching the self-isolation legislation.
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