The continued development of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) has disrupted all facets of our lives. The Queensland and Federal Governments are dealing with a rapidly evolving situation and responding with measures they consider appropriate in the circumstances. As the spread of Coronavirus worsens, we have seen the preventative measures being implemented increase in their severity. In particular are the directions of the Chief Health Officer of Queensland:
- the Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction;
- the Non-Essential Business, Activity and Undertaking Closure Direction (No.4); and
- the School and Early Childhood Service Exclusion Direction.
Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction
The Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction (effective 11.59pm 2 April 2020) requires persons who reside in Queensland not to leave their principal place of residence unless they are doing so for a permitted purpose.
There are a reasonable number of permitted purposes such as:
- obtaining food or other essential goods or services necessary for life and the operation of society (such as food, fuel, medical supplies and other goods);
- obtaining medical treatment;
- physical exercise; and
- undertaking work (provided such work is of a nature that cannot reasonably be performed from home).
Importantly for those with shared child care arrangements, a permitted purpose includes:
- complying with orders of the court or tribunal of Australia; and
- continuing existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children and siblings.
Separated parents will be allowed to leave the home to undertake a handover of children.
Non-Essential Business Activity and Undertaking Closure Direction (No.4)
The Non-Essential Business, Activity and Gathering Direction (effective 31 March 2020) requires certain listed business undertakings to cease in an effort to reduce gatherings of people. Importantly, these include:
- cafes, restaurants, fast food outlets and food courts are closed (unless they are doing so by takeaway);
- play centres;
- community and recreation areas;
- libraries, community centres, youth centres and community facilities; and
- places of worship.
This will mean that the usual place of changeover may not be appropriate and it might be more convenient to do so in a public place that is not restricted by this direction.
School and Early Childhood Service Exclusion Direction
The School and Early Childhood Service Exclusion Direction allows persons in charge of schools and early childhood to exclude children who are reasonably suspected of being unwell. In the event this occurs, then parent(s) are to be notified and the child removed from the school or early childhood service as soon as practicable and only returned when the child is no longer exhibiting symptoms of illness or if they are suspected of having a contagious condition after the prescribed period for the contagious condition has ended.
In Queensland, the onset of Easter means there is a short break between term 1 and term 2. When term 2 resumes, as a parent, it is important to know that you are under an obligation under Chapter 9 of the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 to ensure your child is enrolled and attending school on every school day unless you have a reasonable excuse. However, the Education Act 2006 will allow for flexible arrangements to be developed by the schools and you should ensure that, as best as possible, you are relying upon these arrangements to continue your child’s development.
Your Orders and Obligations
It is important that those of us with orders relating to children or informal child care arrangements consider whether those arrangements are suitable for the evolving situation posed by Coronavirus and if there is a question about the appropriateness of those arrangements speak to a suitably qualified family law specialist.
You should also ensure that you consider discussing worst-case outcomes with the other-party such as a scenario where one parent contracts Coronavirus and they either do or do not have the children in their care when symptoms present. Furthermore, you should ensure you practice social distancing including in cases of supervised visits with children.
This article has been prepared as at 7 April 2020 and persons relying upon its contents should ensure they remain up to date about the latest Health Directions issued by the Queensland Government. Health Directions can be found at https://www.health.qld.gov.au/system-governance/legislation/cho-public-health-directions-under-expanded-public-health-act-powers