SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous state said on Thursday police enforcement of restrictions on personal movement intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus would last three months, as the number of new cases continued to slow.
After a federal government order limiting groups of people gathering outside to two, Australian states have instructed their police to issue fines of up to A$11,000 ($6,672) to people who violate the restrictions.
In New South Wales, home to nearly a third of Australia’s 25 million population, police have also threatened prison terms of up to six months for people who violate the rules.
“When is the turn-off period for these orders? It is 90 days,” state police commissioner Mick Fuller said in a televised news conference.
“People will have gotten the message by then, hopefully. And we won’t be talking about the powers, we’ll be talking about what does it look like coming out of this?”
Police in NSW and other states have already started issuing tickets to people suspected of breaching orders that the authorities themselves have called “draconian”.
Like countries around the world, Australia has ordered the shutdown of restaurants, cafes, bars, movie theatres and instructed people to stay inside unless they are shopping for food or taking their daily exercise as it tries to contain the flu-like illness. So far, about 5,000 people have been infected in Australia, and 22 have died.
In NSW, which has about half the country’s coronavirus cases, authorities reported 116 new cases in the past 24 hours, slightly less than the previous day’s increase. Nationwide, health authorities have said the infection rate appears to have slowed in recent days but that it is too early to say definitively.
On the other side of the country, a standoff continued on Thursday between immigration officials and foreign-owned cruise ships which were refusing to leave Western Australian waters despite being ordered to do so.
Cruise ships are responsible for at least 20% of Australia’s coronavirus cases, and a source of public anger after hundreds of passengers from Carnival Corp’s Ruby Princess were allowed to disembark in Sydney and hundreds later tested positive for COVID-19.
In the wake of that incident and amid fears cruise ships were essentially super carriers of the virus, the federal government barred them from docking at Australian port, except in emergencies.