COVID-19 Update: New “home confinement direction” applying to all Queensland residents

A “home confinement” direction has recently been issued by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeanette Young, under the Public Health Act.

The direction commenced from midnight on Sunday, 29 March 2020 – but has attracted little to no media attention, having been overshadowed by Federal Government media releases which do not have any force of law.

The direction is important and unprecedented; it supplements other directions issued by Dr Young, including a “non-essential business activity” direction and “mass gatherings” direction.

Under the Public Health Act, the relevant Queensland Ministers have made an order declaring a “public health emergency” in relation to COVID-19, following which Dr Young has been empowered to issue, and has issued, directions to contain and respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the community.

The recent Home Confinement Direction prevails to the extent that it is inconsistent with any previous directions issued under the Public Health Act.

Under the new direction, people residing in Queensland are now prohibited from leaving their homes except for permitted purposes and, if they do leave (only for permitted purposes), they must not be in a group of more than two persons who are not members of the same household.

Permitted purposes include obtaining food or other essential goods or services, for physical exercise, obtaining medical treatment, to perform work on behalf of an employer that is engaged in an essential business, activity, or undertaking (discussed below), to attend a funeral, to attend Court or comply with a Court order, to attend an educational institution (where the education cannot be obtained remotely), or to provide assistance, care, or support to, or to visit a terminally ill, relative.

Importantly, the exception allowing a person to leave their home to engage in an essential business, activity, or undertaking, is subject to the condition that the work to be performed must be of a nature that the work to be performed cannot reasonably be performed from the person’s principal place of residence.

So, whereas a professional, such as an accountant or lawyer, was previously excepted from leaving their home for work, it now appears that such a professional is prohibited from leaving their residence unless their work cannot reasonably be performed from their principal place of residence.

Businesses providing things such as retail food services, beauty and personal care, and alcohol, are still allowed to trade, but only to the extent permitted under the previous “non-essential business activity” direction and, again, only if the work to be performed cannot reasonably be performed from a principal place of residence. Social distancing and limits on personal attendance must also be observed.

Hefty penalties apply under the Public Health Act for breaching directions, and the Queensland Government has stated that Queensland Police are actively enforcing the new prohibitions.

Currently, the maximum fine is 100 penalty units, which means that, if you breach a direction, you could receive a fine of up to $13,345.00.