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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
  • Commencing 3 January 2021 - give you an on-the-spot fine of $200 if you don’t follow orders about 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 about COVID-19 hotspots and self-isolation. There are also government rules around movements, gatherings and travel that you should follow.

COVID-19 hotspots

COVID-19 health alerts are constantly changing. For the latest information on COVID-19 hotspots please visit the Government webpage ‘Latest COVID-19 case locations in NSWand 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.

People who have COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose should get tested and self-isolate. To find a testing clinic near you visit the ‘COVID-19 testing clinic webpage’ and enter your postcode.

If you suspect you may have COVID-19 call the National Coronavirus Helpline 1800 020 080 – open 24 hours, 7 days. If you need translating and interpreting services call 131 450.


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 & gatherings

To manage the spread of COVID-19, the NSW Government has issued rules to regulate the number of people moving and gathering. These restrictions limit 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.

See the NSW Government What you can and can’t do under the rules website for the latest restrictions, including the numbers allowed at different indoor and outdoor venues and in homes.

Wearing face masks

Mandatory wearing of face masks in the Greater Sydney area

On 3 January 2021 a new public health order was issued which requires mandatory wearing of face masks by workers and customers using indoor areas of venues detailed below in the Greater Sydney area including Blue Mountains, Northern Beaches, Central Coast and Wollongong:

  • Retail premises where goods or services are provided to the public such as supermarkets, shopping centres, banks, post offices and salons NOT hospitality venues or kiosks
  • Licensed premises used primarily for gaming purposes, such as pubs, registered clubs and casinos
  • Entertainment facilities
  • Places used for public worship and religious services
  • Residential aged care facilities.

In addition, face masks must be worn at all times when in:

  • Public transport waiting areas and vehicles, including taxis, ride share and community transport services
  • NSW airports
  • Domestic aircraft travelling into or out of NSW.

This public health order 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
  • Residents at a residential aged care facility

Face masks may be removed for short periods of time in some circumstances – see exemptions on the NSW Government website.

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 on public transport or in supermarkets
  • any areas where community transmission has happened
  • indoor settings with a higher risk of transmission, such as for staff working in hospitality and retail and other customer-facing venues like cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs
  • attending places of worship.

To find out more about face masks go to the NSW Government website.

Physical distancing rules apply to the following gatherings and locations. But they are exempt from the number of people who can gather restrictions:

  • Airports
  • For public transportation purposes in vehicles and at stops
  • Hospitals and other medical or health service facilities
  • Emergency services including training by an emergency service
  • Correctional and youth justice centres or other places of custody
  • Disability and aged care facilities
  • Courts and Tribunals
  • Parliament
  • Supermarkets and other markets where food is predominately sold
  • Work sites like offices, farms, factories, warehouses, commercial fishing, mining or construction sites
  • Schools, universities or other educational institutions or childcare facilities but not community events that involve members of the community in addition to staff and students
  • Hotel, motel or other accommodation facility
  • Outdoor space for purpose of transiting through that space like malls
  • To provide services to vulnerable members of the public like a food service for homeless people
  • Premises necessary to provide early education and care facilities

Providing your personal details when at venues:

From Monday 23 November 2020, it is mandatory for certain types of businesses to use

electronic check-in methods to collect patron and staff details. You can follow this link to find out more www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/covid-safe/customer-record-keeping

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

  • full name
  • phone number and where possible email address
  • date and time of entry and where possible time of exit

Most business will collect this information with a QR code that you access on a smart phone. If you don’t have a smartphone 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 business.

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 at least 14 days. This period can extend up to 24 full days.
  • The government will organise your accommodation. This could be a hotel or hospital. You do not have a choice of where you stay.
  • People in quarantine who get tested for COVID-19 and the result is negative 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. 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




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 should get legal advice early, 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 have received a NSW public health order fine or charge, 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 Helpline1800 020 080 (open 24/7).

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 | 22 January 2021 | © Legal Aid NSW