Public Health Act 2005 And COVID-19
The Public Health Act 2005 in Queensland aims to protect and promote the health of the public in the state. In 2020, it was amended in a bid to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the amendments was to confer additional powers on the state’s Chief Health Officer (CHO) and emergency officers in relation to COVID-19 public health directions such as quarantine and lockdowns. This article looks at those amendments.
Part 7A of the Act
The Act lists several ways it can achieve its aim which are relevant to COVID-19. These include to:
- prevent, control and reduce risks to public health;
- provide for the identification of and response to notifiable conditions;
- impose obligations on people and health care facilities to minimise infection risks;
- respond to public health emergencies.
In 2020, Part 7A was inserted in the Act to give the State Government particular powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was officially declared a public health emergency on January 29, 2020, and Part 7A was enacted 3 weeks later.
The new laws apply if the CHO reasonably believes it is necessary to give a public health direction to help contain or respond to the spread of the virus. They allow a direction that:
- restricts people’s movement;
- requires people to stay in or at a stated place;
- requires people not to enter or stay at or in a stated place;
- restricts contact between people.
The direction takes effect when it is given or at a later date or time stated. It must state the period for which it applies, and that it is an offence to not comply with the direction without reasonable excuse. The maximum penalty for non-compliance is a fine of 100 penalty units ($13,785) or 6 months imprisonment.
The CHO can order that a facility open, close, or limit access, at a stated time, in a stated way and to a stated extent during. For example, an order can state that a supermarket can open only during stated hours and only to customers who have a pensioner concession card.
COVID-19 emergency officers
Under the Act, during public health emergencies, certain people can be appointed as emergency officers. These include public service officers, health service employees, local government employees, State Emergency Services member, and medical doctors.
Emergency officer powers relevant to COVID-19 include to require:
- a person to go to or stay in a stated place for up to 14 days (the “isolation period”);
- the parent of a child to keep the child in a stated place for stated period of up to 14 days (the “isolation period”);
- a facility open, close, or limit access, at a stated time, in a stated way and to a stated extent.
Medical doctors appointed as emergency officers have extra powers, including ordering the detention for up to 14 days of a person if the doctor believes the person has COVID-19.
An emergency officer is allowed to use necessary and reasonable force to take action to enforce the requirement or direction. Failure to comply with a direction from an emergency officer incurs a maximum penalty of a fine of 100 penalty units ($13,785).
The same fine applies to anyone who gives false or misleading statements or documents to an emergency officer. The fine doubles if a person, without reasonable excuse, obstructs an emergency officer carrying out their COVID-19 duties.
COVID-19 quarantine fees
The new laws allow fees to be charged to a person who is ordered to quarantine at a place other than their home, such as a hotel. The fees can relate to accommodation and meals, and can depend on whether a person is required to quarantine with others. The laws allows fees to be waived in full or in part in some circumstances, such as when the person quarantined is in financial hardship or is classed as a vulnerable person. Fees must be paid within 30 days of the invoice. If not paid, the fees can be recovered from the person as a debt due to the state.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.