‘Ignorant’ flout Covid-19 quarantine

Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent says police will "come down hard" on blatant quarantine breaches.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Coronavirus infectees are slipping out of self-isolation mainly out of ignorance, says the head of Victoria Police’s Operation Sentinel taskforce.

Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent will lead a statewide police presence spot-testing quarantined people and enforcing bans on mass gatherings to help limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

It was “really disappointing” that draconian measures were required, he conceded.

“We didn’t want to use a big-stick approach to this but ultimately we need to ensure that people are absolutely not putting people at risk.

“I believe people will get the message.

“Early in the piece, they were not seeing it as big an issue as it really is.”

Some are leaving their 14 days of mandatory isolation to go to movies or a meal to “have a break from it”.

They are putting others at “significant risk” of contracting the virus including family and friends, Dep Comm Nugent said.

Some showed a “degree of ignorance” and apologised when it was explained to them.

“Unfortunately there are people not taking these restrictions seriously.

“It’s actually quite selfish and we know it puts lives at risk.”

Dep Comm Nugent said police received increasing public reports of breaches – amounting to “tens” of reports in a 24-hour period.

In cases of “blatant” disregard for the Chief Health Officer’s restrictions or multiple breaches, police will “come down hard” with arrests, charges and fines, he said.

Fines of up to $20,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations apply.

As part of Operation Sentinel, more than 500 police a day, including mobile patrols, will be employed.

Police officers from the “freed up” Transit Unit and Police Events, as well as local, regional and rural stations will be deployed on the operation.

Technology such as Face Time will be used to check quarantined people were indeed at home, Dep Comm Nugent said.

Police will be also checking the health and wellbeing of people in isolation, including checking for signs of family violence.

“The potential for increased family violence is a significant concern for us.

“We know that people who require to self-isolate for a period of time, it can cause stress, it can cause anxiety, it can cause tension.”

As of 24 March, reported coronavirus cases in Victoria were 411 – more than quadrupling the official figure a week earlier.

Victoria’s health authorities are recommending social distancing of 1.5 metres from others, frequent hand-washing with soap and water and hygienic sneezing and coughing practices.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the threat to public health needed to be taken seriously.

“Everyone who’s unwell must isolate themselves and everyone who’s been told they’re in quarantine either as a returned traveller or close contact must do so,” Professor Sutton said.

“Social distancing will save lives.

“Everyone needs to comply with restrictions in place to keep yourself, your loved ones and the whole community safe.”