COVID-19 EDITION 3: FINES AND DRONES

April 14, 2020

The cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to increase; as at 3pm on 13 April 2020, there have been 6,359 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, of which 2,863 are from New South Wales and 1,281 from Victoria. The State of Emergency in Victoria has now been extended until midnight on 11 May 2020 to combat the virus.

FINES

The declaration of Victoria as a State of Emergency means residents are only allowed to leave their homes for any of the five essential reasons*:

  1. Shopping for food or other essential goods and services
  2. Work and education
  3. Care and compassionate reasons
  4. Exercise
  5. Other extenuating circumstances

A two-person gathering rule now applies for both inside and outside the house, but exempts people who live in the same household.

Breaching of any of these rules may incur a fine of up to $1,652 for individuals and up to $9,913 for businesses. Police officers now have strong powers to enforce these directions and are given the liberty to issue the fines on the spot. They would use “common sense” in dealing with issuing fines and have the responsibility to decide who will receive the penalties.

Notwithstanding fines issued by the police, under the State of Emergency, people who do not comply, can also be taken to court and charged under s 203 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. This may result in 120 penalty units for an individual, equating to approximately $20,000 or 600 penalty units for a corporation, equating to $100,000 for the breach.

On a federal level, under s 475 of the Biosecurity Act 2015, the Commonwealth now has power to issue a “human biosecurity control order”. If such an order is imposed, Australians must comply with the requirements and directions. While such an order has not yet been issued, anyone found to intentionally engage in conduct that contravenes this order commits a criminal offence that is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for five years and/or a fine of 300 penalty units, equating to $63,000.

Such strict restrictions and harsh penalties are exercised in the hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19. With no possible vaccine in the near future, it is up to the public to determine the likelihood of the spread of the virus.

DRONES

Aside from physical patrolling, Perth’s police force has announced plans to engaged in drone patrolling. Drones will be deployed to enforce social distancing and will be used to patrol beaches, parks and public areas. This not only decreases the likelihood of the police force being exposed to the virus, but may also save time for the police to patrol the area.

Critics may argue that using of drones invades people’s private space and may normalise surveillance instead. Usage of drones may lead to mental and psychological effects on a person’s health. For some groups who may already been closely checked, the feeling of being constantly watched may cause further stress and anxiety. Nonetheless, while the Victorian police has yet to use this method, it is only a matter of time before drones will be seen flying around to spread awareness of the virus, or to patrol the streets in order to determine if people are actually obeying the rules which have been set in place.

*For more information from the Victorian Government on the ‘Stay at Home’ and ‘Restricted activities’ directions, please go to: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-stay-home-and-restricted-activities-directions-faq

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