Australia's coronavirus social distancing rules explained: state by state guidelines

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Scott Morrison has tightened physical distancing restrictions, but how they are applied will be determined by each state. Find out what’s illegal, and what happens if you break the law

Since the pandemic was declared all Australian states have gone into various levels of lockdown.

Now that the country is cautiously optimistic that the curve has been flattened, the big question is how and when we will come out of isolation?

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World news | The Guardian

Since the pandemic was declared all Australian states have gone into various levels of lockdown.

Now that the country is cautiously optimistic that the curve has been flattened, the big question is how and when we will come out of isolation?

Several states have already started relaxing physical distancing laws, while others are holding firm.

So what are the laws as they currently stand?

These are the laws as of Tuesday 28 April. This article will be updated as new restrictions are implemented or repealed.


Queensland was one of the first states to announce an easing of restrictions.

Previously residents were only allowed out of their home for one of eight essential – reasons including obtaining essential goods or services, receiving medical attention or caring for family members.

However, on Saturday 25 April premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that Queenslanders would now be able to shop for non-essential items. Picnics and weekend drives are now allowed, and national parks will reopen on Saturday 2 May.

However, residents must not travel further than 50km from their homes, and the “two-person rule” is still in effect.

This means if someone leaves their house they can be joined by only one other person or the members of their household, and physical distancing requirements must still be observed.

In early April Palaszczuk said that the inside the home a household was allowed two additional guests.

Palaszczuk said this amendment is intended to help families who may not all live in the same home to stay connected. She also clarified that those who live alone are allowed two social guests.

Queensland police officers are still 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 are 10 times those amounts.

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From 3 April, Queensland’s borders were closed to everyone except residents and essential workers, including freight carriers and emergency workers. This includes erecting barriers in the Gold Coast suburb of Coolangatta, which straddles both Queensland and NSW.

These border restrictions remain in place.

There are some exemptions for those who regularly cross the Queensland-NSW border for work.

New South Wales

NSW had some of the strictest lockdown laws in the country, but an announcement by premiere Gladys Berejilklian on 28 April, eased them significantly.

From Friday 1 May, two adults and the children in their care are allowed to visit another person’s home. These visits must be for “care” reasons, however, the NSW definition or care will be significantly broadened. A spokesperson from the premier’s office told Guardian Australia that visiting friends would be considered beneficial for mental health and would, therefore, constitute “care”.

There are no limits on how many guests someone is allowed per day as long as there are no more than two adults at a time. Details on how far residents are allowed to travel are still to come.

Berejilklian has also encouraged retails stores to open and NSW residents to shop as long as physically distancing can be maintained.

While the number of people allowed in a home has been increased the two-person gathering limit remains in place when in public spaces.

Other than these changes, residents are still required 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 into 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.

People who are learning to drive can continue to learn to drive and get their hours logged.

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

Police have been out on the streets enforcing these rules.

The laws 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 has been left to police officers’ discretion who will receive a fine, however all fines are reviewed personally by Fuller.


While there has been a suggestion that the strict physical distancing laws in Victoria would be reviewed in May, the state remains in lockdown.

On Tuesday 28 April Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters the situation was “fragile” and he didn’t want to ease up restrictions too early and then be forced to bring them back in.

Currently, 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 breakdown of these reasons can be found here.

The two-person gathering rules apply inside and outside the home. This rule exempts people who live in the same household, whether this be a family unit or roommates.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton, tweeted that exemptions would be made for visiting romantic partners.

Police officers are responsible for deciding who will receive penalties. They may ask individuals to prove why they are out of the home or prove a group are members of the same household, but deputy commissioner Shane Patton said officers would use “common sense” and were experienced in knowing who was being truthful.

Victorians cannot visit family members who do not live with them, but may drop off food and supplies for care and compassionate reasons.

Children who may need to move between the houses of their parents or carers are also allowed to travel, and court-ordered visitation rights for parents can also be upheld.

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

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Lockdown measures remain in place in Tasmania as health officials continue to grapple with an outbreak in the north-west.

The island state has adopted similar measures to Victoria and NSW with individuals only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons and gatherings limited to two people. However, there is 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 healthcare appointments

  • 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 gatherings of more than two people inside and outside the home, but they have a broad definition of “social support”. This allows families and couples who live apart to visit one another’s homes. Households are allowed to have two visitors as long as physical distancing requirements can be met.

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.

Tasmania also requires that all non-essential travellers entering the state quarantine for a period of 14 days.

Western Australia

Western Australian has seen perhaps the most significant easing of lockdown laws, with the state increasing its gathering limits from two people to 10.

Residents are allowed to leave home for recreational activities including picnics, fishing, boating or camping. This also raises the maximum number of people at a wedding from five to 10.

Open houses and display villages will also be allowed to operate, however public playgrounds, skateparks and outdoor gym equipment will remain closed, and restaurants and cafes will still be restricted to takeaway and home delivery.

WA’s border restrictions remain in place. These divide the state into nine regions that residents cannot move between without good reason.

Reasons for crossing include:

  • Travelling to work

  • Attending medical appointments

  • Transporting freight

  • Accessing groceries or supplies if these are not available in the current region

  • Returning home

  • Attending school or other educational institutions

  • Supporting family members where necessary

  • Compassionate grounds

Officers can issue on-the-spot fines of $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses who disobey the rules.

The premier said drones would 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 maintains a hard closure of its state boarder. As of midnight on 6 April only “exempt travellers” have been allowed in. This includes WA residents.

A list of “exempt travellers” can be found here, and includes senior government officials, military personal and a range of essential workers.

Australian Capital Territory

Australian Capital Territory lockdown laws remain in place.

The ACT has been enforcing the two-person gathering limit in public, but in homes, households are allowed up to two additional guests, as long as there is still at least four square metres per person indoors.

ACT chief officer Andrew Barr has urged residents not to leave their home, except for certain essential reasons.

These are:

  • Shopping for what you need – food and necessary supplies

  • Medical or healthcare needs, including compassionate requirements

  • Exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements

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

ACT police officers would be issuing a warning in the first instance.

Guardian Australia understands that police have focused on enforcing the two-person gathering limits, not why people have left their homes.

Northern Territory

Some physical distancing rules will be eased in the Northern Territory from Friday 1 May.

Chief minister Michael Gunner said national parks would be opened for the Mayday long weekend for camping, swimming and hiking but urged Territorians to practice safe physical distancing.

The Northern Territory maintains a 10-person gathering limit but Gunner has threatened to bring in stricter laws if people do 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.

The Northern Territory now requires any non-essential travellers to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. Remote communities also have protection in place to stop non-essential visitors from entering.

South Australia

South Australia has not formally lifted any physically distancing laws, but the state never imposed the strict lockdowns seen in Victoria, NSW or WA.

The SA government has also welcomed students back into classrooms for term two.

South Australia opted not to enforce new two-person-gathering laws but premier Steven Marshall still urged people to follow these rules.

On-the-spot fines of $1,000 still will only be applied to those who are gathering in groups larger than 10.

Social distancing rules must still be followed, and gatherings with less than 10 people indoors must abide by the one person per four square meters rules.

All people entering South Australia are required to undertake a 14-day quarantine.

  • Due to the unprecedented and ongoing nature of the coronavirus outbreak, this article is being regularly updated to ensure that it reflects the current situation at the date of publication. Any significant corrections made to this or previous versions of the article will continue to be footnoted in line with Guardian editorial policy.

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