As social distancing laws aimed at curbing COVID-19 become increasingly restrictive around the country, confusion reigns about whether people can visit their partners.
It comes as Australia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 21 on Wednesday afternoon with the death of a patient at Orange, in Central West New South Wales.
The death has taken the NSW toll to 10.
To try to slow the virus’ spread, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania have introduced tough public health orders, giving police the power to fine or arrest people who leave home without a reasonable excuse.
But the crackdown has left couples who live apart wondering, ‘Can I be fined for visiting my partner under the new rules? Or is visiting them a reasonable excuse to leave home?’.
- Read: What Australia’s ‘extreme’ new coronavirus laws and police powers mean for our civil liberties
On Wednesday morning, NSW Police Commissioner Mike Fuller confirmed people were allowed to visit their partners in that state, under exemptions for “care” – which includes mental health.
Asked if people could still visit their “boyfriend or girlfriend”, Mr Fuller said: “Absolutely, that’s under care.”
“Mental health is under care,” he said. “I think we have to look after each other, but don’t take the whole family with you. Don’t take your grandparents.”
The clarification came after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people could leave their homes only for work or education, medical reasons, to buy essentials or to exercise.
Confusion has also been mounting in Victoria, where couples were initially told they could not visit each other if they lived separately, but later told they could.
On Wednesday afternoon, just hours after announcing it was against the rules for people to visit their partners, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews backflipped.
When questioned about the ban on Wednesday morning, Mr Andrews said: “People should not do that”.
“That’s not work, that’s not care-giving, 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,” he said.
However by 5pm that afternoon, the premier had experienced a change of heart.
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.
— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) April 1, 2020
The New Daily understands partners in Victoria can visit each other under the stay-at-home rules, but they must practise good hygiene and social distancing, including standing 1.5 metres apart.
In Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory, you can visit a partner.
In Queensland, you can leave home to provide care to an “immediate member of the person’s family”, but there is no provision for leaving to care for anyone else.
This seems to imply you cannot visit a partner unless you’re married to them.
In Western Australia and the ACT, the rules are not clear.
However, WA has restrictions on regional travel, meaning you cannot visit a partner if they live in a different region.
Under national rules, two people are allowed to exercise together.
Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville earlier tweeted “you cannot visit your partner for social reasons. There are select reasons you can go to the home of your partner. They are outlined clearly in the directives of the CHO which you can find and read at: https://dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus.”
You cannot visit your partner for social reasons. There are select reasons you can go to the home of your partner. They are outlined clearly in the directives of the CHO which you can find and read at: https://t.co/lZt5A46ROh
— Lisa Neville (@LisanevilleMP) March 31, 2020
“I know it does seem very harsh,” she said.
“But it is part of the directive of the chief health officer based on how this virus can easily spread moving from household to household.”
Mr Andrews said people had to ask themselves whether their actions were “worth a life” before visiting a partner or friend.
“If you don’t need to do it, don’t do it. That’s a very, very simple thing,” he said.
“Stay at home, preserve the health system and save lives. We’ve got a long way to go and I know I’m asking a lot.
“We’ve all got to play our part, and I’m very proud of Victorians who are, and I’ve got a message for those who aren’t: you will be caught and the fines are significant, but it’s not dollars, it’s lives. That’ll be the true cost of you breaking these rules.”
Mr Andrews said at least eight fines had been issued for people breaching physical distancing rules and thanked Victoria Police for working in “very challenging circumstances”.
He said the fines were issued to people who breached the two-person rule and others who left their home before finishing 14 days of quarantine.
“The fines are steep. They are a very significant cost if you get caught, and you will get caught if you’re doing the wrong thing.
“But ultimately no gathering, no party, no choice that you make is worth someone else’s life.”