Go to content

COVID-19: Public health orders – what do I need to know?

This factsheet is part of a series from Legal Aid NSW that aims to help answer your questions about COVID-19 and everyday law.

You may be worried or confused about how COVID-19 will affect you and your everyday life. Sometimes a crisis can make legal problems worse or new problems might develop. Legal Aid NSW understands that there will be a lot of questions about money worries, fines, police, housing, Centrelink, employment, guardianship and mental health. This series of fact sheets will give you helpful information and contacts to assist you to manage all the changes that are happening in our community.

What are the new fines?

The NSW Government has issued public health orders to limit the spread of COVID-19. The orders have been issued under the Public Health Act.

The police have powers to give fines to people who don’t follow the new orders.

The police can:

  • Give you an on-the-spot fine for $1000 if you don’t follow the orders.
  • Fine you another $5500 for each day that you don’t follow the orders.

The court can:

  • Fine you up to $11000, and/or give you 6 months imprisonment.

How can I follow the orders?

This is what you need to know about self-isolation, air travel, movement and gathering so that you can follow the new orders.


If you have been diagnosed with Covid-19:

  • You must self-isolate.
  • You must stay where the doctor has told you to be. This might be at home or at a medical facility.
  • You must stay in that place until you are medically cleared of the virus.
  • You cannot leave unless there is an emergency, or you need to get medical care.
  • No-one else can enter the place where you are self-isolating, unless they normally live there, or they are providing you with medical or emergency care.

If you are a close contact of someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19, you will be contacted by NSW Health and given an order to self-isolate.

Air Travel

If you have arrived in NSW by plane and you have been overseas in the last 14 days:

  • You must enter quarantine for 14 days.
  • The government will organise your accommodation. This could be a hotel or hospital.
  • You will not be allowed to leave quarantine until the 14 days have passed
  • If the end point of your trip is in another state or territory, you will have to do the quarantine in NSW before you can continue your trip


Everyone is being asked to stay at home to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. The order says that you cannot leave your home without a reasonable excuse.

A reasonable excuse might be one of the following things:

  • Travel for work, if you can't work from home
  • Legal obligations
  • Getting help from Centrelink, domestic violence services, employment services, mental health services, or victims of crime services
  • Helping a vulnerable person
  • Following custody or contact arrangements between parents and children
  • Homelessness
  • Emergencies, or to escape danger
  • Getting food, or other household items
  • Taking children to childcare or school
  • Getting medical care or supplies
  • Exercise
  • Donating blood
  • Visiting a place of worship
  • Caring for another person


Gatherings of more than 2 people are not allowed, unless they are essential gatherings.

Essential gatherings are:

  • Workplaces and other facilities such as hospitals and courts
  • Public transport
  • When members of the same household, this could be families or flatmates, are together
  • Supermarkets
  • Schools or childcare centres
  • Funerals, with no more than 10 people (excluding people preparing and conducting the funeral )
  • Weddings, with no more than 5 people (including the person conducting the service)

What does physical distancing mean?

Physical distancing means that you should not stand close to people, touch people or gather in groups.

Things you can do to social distance are:

  • Don’t shake hands, hug or kiss as a greeting.
  • Keep 1.5 metres between yourself and other people, where possible.

You will not break the law if you forget to do these things. But it is very important for our health and safety that you try to distance yourself from other people.

What are my options if I get a fine?

You have the option to dispute the fine, make partial payments or consider a Work and Development Order (WDO). You should get legal advice, so you know what the best option is for you.

Where can I find more information?

  • To contact the Legal Aid NSW Work and Development Order (WDO) team email them at wdo@legalaid.nsw.gov.au
  • Revenue NSW WDO Hotline 1300 478 879.

How can I get help?

For free legal help call 1300 888 529 or call your local Legal Aid NSW office.

If you need an interpreter, call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 and ask for LawAccess NSW. If you find it hard to hear or speak, call the National Relay Service on 133 677 and ask for LawAccess NSW or visit www.relayservice.gov.au.

This factsheet is intended as a general guide to the law. Do not rely on this information as legal advice. We recommend you talk to a lawyer about your situation. This information is correct at the time of writing, however, it may change.

CVCIV02 | 9 April 2020 | © Legal Aid NSW