A backlash over tough public health orders banning romantic couples catching up unless they live in the same home has prompted backflips in Victoria and New South Wales.
The relaxation of the new rules in the nation’s two largest states means that couples around the country can still visit each other in permitted circumstances.
It follows concerns that some of the new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have unintended consequences and are unsustainable for six months.
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Television footage of citizens being told to move on by NSW police while enjoying the sun on a park bench have alarmed critics, but the new rules are far more relaxed in the nation’s capital. Canberrans have been granted permission to visit friends as long as no more than two people from outside the household are present.
In Queensland and West Australia, anyone who lives alone can have a partner come to visit.
People who live in share households can socialise with the family or roommates they live with, but if there are more than two people in the home, no visitors are allowed.
In Tasmania, “social support” visits are exempted from the two-person rule, which means that families can visit relatives’ homes and couples can visit each others’ residences.
Victorian chief medical officer Brett Sutton announced on Wednesday night that an exemption would be made for partners.
“Regarding ‘Stay at Home’ rules: We have no desire to penalise individuals who are staying with or meeting their partners if they don’t usually reside together. We’ll be making an exemption. Hope that helps,” he tweeted.
Dr Sutton told ABC radio that it was never the intention of the new rules to ban couples from seeing romantic partners.
“It’s not really the policy intent that was required, we were acutely aware that for those that normally live together in a household they’re exposed to each other all the time,” Dr Sutton said.
“I think it’s an issue of trying to work this out in a really rapid time, we’re seeing things change every day in terms of this epidemic. We’re implementing policy and legal directions that have never been done in this country previously.”
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville supported the move as a “good common sense outcome”, despite earlier telling journalists: “You cannot visit your partner for social reasons.”
Earlier, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews had said it was against the rules to visit romantic partners during the lockdown.
“That does not work, that’s not caregiving, that’s not medical care, that’s not shopping for the things you need when you need them, and it does not comply with the rules. People should not do that,” he said.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he regarded the right to visit your romantic partner as a mental health issue.
“I would put that under ‘care’, absolutely,” he said. “Mental health, we get it, that’s under care. Absolutely under care.”
“We need to look after each other – but don’t take the whole family with you, don’t take your grandparents,” he said.
“I understand there’s lots of good questions but we’ve got to care for each other as well.”
Dr Sutton also said he believed that people should be allowed to relax in a park, or on a park bench.
“Look, I think it’s acceptable,” he said. “We obviously want to reinforce commonsense with all of this.
“Other people might come to that shared space but you need to make sure you stay away from those individuals. But If you are out on your own, walking and not in close proximity to others, that is not a risk.”
Dr Sutton said he accepted that some of the rules seemed at odds with the fact retailers and childcare centres are still open.
“It is a challenge. There are some obvious things that don’t seem We are trying to strike a balance,” he said.