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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 factsheets 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 public health order 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.

For individuals

The police can:

  • Give you an on-the-spot fine for $1,000 if you don’t follow the orders
  • Fine you another $5,500 for each day that you don’t follow the orders
  • Give you an on-the-spot fine for $200 if you don’t follow orders about the mandatory wearing of a face mask (see below) in certain premises in Greater Sydney, NSW airports and domestic flights into and out of NSW.

The court can:

  • Fine you up to $11,000 or give you 6 months imprisonment or both

How can I follow the orders?

This is what you need to know to follow the public health orders:

  • COVID-19 hotspots in NSW
  • Self-isolation
  • Movement and gatherings
  • Providing your personal details when entering business premises
  • Face masks
  • International travel and mandatory quarantine
  • Interstate travel

COVID-19 hotspots

COVID-19 health alerts are constantly changing. For the latest information on COVID-19 hotspots go to the Government webpage Latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW and follow the latest health advice for any outbreaks. If you have been in any of the locations named in the Government website you should follow the health advice immediately.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or a runny nose, you should get tested and self-isolate. To find a free COVID-19 testing clinic near you, go to the COVID-19 testing clinic webpage and enter your postcode.

If you think you may have COVID-19 call the National Coronavirus Helpline 1800 020 080 – open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you need translating and interpreting services call 131 450 and they will put you through.


You must self-isolate if you:

  • have COVID-19
  • are a close contact of someone with COVID-19
  • have been identified by an authorised contact tracer as a close contact of a COVID-19 case
  • are a returned traveller exempt from hotel quarantine
  • have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting results

Self-isolate means that you:

  • must stay where the doctor has told you to be. This might be at home or at a medical facility.
  • must stay in that place until you are medically cleared of the virus
  • cannot leave your home or place you are staying 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.

For more information about how to self-isolate go to the NSW Health website.

Movement and gatherings

To manage the spread of COVID-19, the NSW Government has issued rules about how we move around and gather in a COVID-19 safe way. These orders restrict the number of people allowed to visit a home and how many people can attend different events, ceremonies and venues. These rules will change from time to time. Go to the NSW Government’s What you can and can’t do under the rules website for up-to-date information about the latest restrictions.

Providing your personal details when entering business premises

To help with contact tracing, it is mandatory for NSW businesses to use electronic check-in methods to collect customer details. To find out more go to the NSW Government’s Customer record keeping webpage.

Businesses and organisations are required to collect the following details from you when you enter their premises:

  • Your full name
  • Your phone number and your email address (where possible)
  • The date and time of entry and time of exit (where possible)

Most businesses will collect this information with a QR code that you scan on a smart phone. If you don’t have a smart phone, the business will have another option for you to check in.

If you don’t provide these details you will not be allowed to enter the premises.

Face masks

Mandatory wearing of face masks

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the NSW Government has rules around wearing face masks. These rules are updated from time to time. To find out the current rules about where you must wear face masks, go to this NSW Government webpage – Face masks must be worn in some places.

In addition, face masks must be worn indoors when in:

  • NSW airports
  • Domestic aircraft travelling into or out of NSW.

Mandatory wearing of face masks does not apply to:

  • People aged 12 years and under
  • People with a physical or mental health illness or disability that makes wearing a fitted face mask unsuitable

Face masks may be removed for short periods of time in some circumstances – go to Exemptions from wearing a face mask.

Wearing face masks in all other situations

NSW Health strongly recommends that people wear face masks in the following situations:

  • indoor settings where physical distancingis difficult, such as supermarkets and retail shopping centres
  • any areas where community transmission of COVID-19 is known to have happened.

To find out more about face masks go to this NSW Government webpage.

International travel and mandatory quarantine

International travellers who arrive in NSW and have been overseas in the last 14 days:

  • must enter quarantine for at least 14 days. This period can extend up to 24 days.
  • stay in accommodation organised by the government. You do not have a choice of where you stay.
  • get tested for COVID-19 when in quarantine. Even if the result is negative you still need to remain for the quarantine period.

From 18 July 2020 the NSW Government began charging returning international travellers for their hotel quarantine accommodation. From 29 January 2021, this includes people from New Zealand. For more information see our factsheet: COVID-19: Mandatory quarantine – what do I need to know?

Interstate travel

Before planning to travel interstate, you must check current restrictions for NSW Hotspots. Some NSW residents may be prevented from crossing state or territory borders. See links below.

Victoria (Victoria Legal Aid also has information available on the Vic/NSW border restrictions webpage)




Northern Territory

South Australia

Western Australia

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 physical 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 at all times.

What are my options if I get a fine?

The options to deal with your fine are:

  • Pay the fine or organise with Revenue NSW to make instalment payments over time
  • Ask for a review of the fine through MyPenalty on the Revenue NSW website
  • Elect to dispute the fine in the Local Court through MyPenalty on the Revenue NSW website (seek legal advice first)

If you get a Public Health Order fine you can get free legal advice, so you know the best option for you.

What if I can’t pay my fine by the due date?

If you can’t pay your fine you have the option to:

  • Make instalment payments over time. These can be small payments each fortnight if you are in financial hardship or on a Centrelink benefit.
  • Clear your fines through a Work and Development Order (WDO) if you are eligible
  • Request to have the fine waived by Revenue NSW if you have serious financial, medical or domestic problems.

What will happen if I don’t pay my fine?

If you don’t pay or make arrangements to pay your fine, Revenue NSW have enforcement powers to:

  • Suspend your driver licence
  • Cancel your car registration
  • Take money from your bank account or wages
  • Get the Sheriff to seize and sell things you own

Each time Revenue NSW takes enforcement action they add fees to your fine. So don’t ignore a fine you can’t pay, get help quickly.

If you get a NSW public health order fine, contact LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 for free legal help.

Where can I find more information?

For the most up to date information on what you can and cannot do under the rules go to the NSW government website.

If you have received a Public Health Order fine and want to discuss your options directly with Revenue NSW you can contact them on (02) 7808 6934 (8:30am to 5:00pm Monday – Friday)

Redfern Legal Centre has a Public Health Laws and Police Powers factsheet on their website.

For COVID-19 health questions or to check symptoms call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

How can I get help?

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

There is also a series of factsheets about COVID-19 and the law available on the Legal Aid NSW website to assist you to manage all the changes that are happening in our community.

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 | 5 February 2021 | © Legal Aid NSW