NSW Police Force will use all powers available to officers to enforce COVID-19-related ministerial directions.
Several ministerial directions have been announced to date, covering incoming travellers, diagnosed persons, mass gatherings and social distancing rules, and the closure of social gathering places.
Commissioner Mick Fuller said the circumstances call for strong action – and police stand ready to respond.
"This health crisis is like nothing we have ever experienced, with more than 1000 cases now confirmed in NSW, and the numbers continuing to grow," he said.
"I'm encouraged that most members of the community are taking this issue seriously and are adhering to the government advice.
"However, disturbingly, our officers have already responded to dozens of reports of breaches of ministerial directions from members of the community. This is astounding, and incredibly disappointing, as these people are putting themselves and the wider community at an unacceptable risk."
Commissioner Fuller said they do not want to use police powers to ensure compliance.
"But let me be clear – we have been using them, and we will continue to do so," he said.
The Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) provides NSW Police with the power to enforce these orders. It is an offence for a person to fail to comply with an order, and severe penalties apply.
Following the NSW Government's recent amendment to the legislation, police will have the additional power to issue penalty infringement notices to anyone found to be in contravention of a ministerial direction. PINs carry on-the-spot fines of $1000 for individuals and $5000 for businesses.
This is in addition to the existing enforcement powers available to officers, which include issuing Court Attendance Notices with a maximum penalty of up to $11,000 and/or six months imprisonment for individuals.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said the measures were tough but necessary to minimise the risk the pandemic poses to public safety.
"Despite the majority of people doing the right thing, we are still seeing reckless and irresponsible behaviour that endangers the lives of others, particularly to elderly and immunocompromised members of the community," he said.
"The rules are clear. No more than one person should occupy a two by two-metre area, and public places such as the beach and retail outlets are no exception.
"Our message to the community is simple: be vigilant, be sensible, and stay up to date with the latest health advice.
"No one is above the law. If you decide to ignore a direction to self-isolate, you will be caught, and you may find yourself slapped with a hefty fine."
NSW Police Force last week launched Operation Coronavirus to guide the organisation's response, with highly specialised officers providing practical and logistical support to our 17,000-strong workforce.
The Police Operations Centre, the command location for coordinating all police activities in response to significant incidents, has been made operational.
Commissioner Fuller said in addition to responding to reports of non-compliance, police had put in place several proactive measures to help stop the spread of the virus.
"Our officers are conducting proactive patrols in every Police Area Command and Police District across the state, to add another layer of enforcement and ensure people in public places are sticking to the rules," he said.
"These patrols also form part of our ongoing work with retailers, to ensure calm and fairness at the checkouts.
"I want to urge the people of NSW to stay safe and follow the official government advice. Now more than ever, we need to pull together and fight this virus as a community."