NSW Covid update: Brad Hazzard contradicts police chief on enforcement of vaccine rules

The New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard insists police will be responsible for enforcing entry restrictions on unvaccinated people – a position at odds with the state’s police commissioner who said officers would “not be walking through restaurants, cafes and pubs checking if people are double vaccinated”.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
© Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller has said officers ‘will not be walking through restaurants, cafes and pubs checking if people are double vaccinated’.

The state recorded 863 new cases and seven deaths in the past 24 hours, but hit a full vaccination rate of 60.4%, edging closer to the 70% target that will trigger an easing of restrictions, likely on 11 October.

The government is preparing to make public health orders that bar unvaccinated people from entry to certain businesses and venues, until at least 1 December.

Related: NSW Covid roadmap explained: what can residents do when state reaches 80% double-dose vaccination and beyond?

Attention has quickly turned to how the orders will be enforced, and whether the onus will fall on individual businesses. Questions about enforcement prompted conflicting accounts on Tuesday.

NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller told Sydney radio on Tuesday morning that his officers would not be patrolling venues to enforce vaccines status.

“The role of police in terms of vaccine passports, we will not be walking through restaurants, cafes and pubs checking if people are double vaccinated,” he said.

“[But] we will certainly be assisting restaurant owners and shop owners if they are refusing entry to someone – we’ll certainly respond to assist those people.”

Speaking to the media later on Tuesday, Hazzard said police would be responsible for enforcing the public health orders.

“If the law says you have to be double vaccinated, then of course the police will enforce that, they have no choice but to enforce that,” he said.

Hazzard also indicated venues wouldn’t face fines if an unvaccinated person was allowed entry. Asked why businesses would bother to argue with unvaccinated people if they are not to face a penalty, Hazzard criticised the media for obsessing over minutiae.

The hospitality sector is waiting to see the public health orders that will be made in coming weeks. But it is understood the sector believes the onus will not be on individual businesses to enforce the rules.

Meanwhile, two separate challenges to vaccine mandates for particular workers are due to be heard urgently in the NSW supreme court on Thursday.

In one case, the judge’s chambers has been inundated with anti-vaccination messages and calls, leading to a warning that it may risk interfering with the administration of justice.

Related: ‘Unconscionable’ to lift lockdowns before all Australians with disability can be vaccinated, inquiry says

At a directions hearing on Tuesday, Justice Robert Beech-Jones said that because his chambers “has been inundated with emails, the legitimate ones can’t get through”.

There have been dozens of callouts posted in anti-vaccine groups to contact Beech-Jones about their views.

One was shared in an official supporter group for One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts on an encrypted messaging app and viewed 40,000 times.

“If a million of us email Justice Beech-Jones, it has to have an influence on his decision knowing a million people are deadset against mandatory vaccination,” it claims.

A court spokesperson confirmed more than 1,800 emails had been received by the judge’s chambers from people interested but not involved in the proceedings.

Addressing the authors of such emails in open court, Beech-Jones said: “Please understand I will not read any of your emails or take any of your calls.”

“People who do so are at risk of interfering with the administration of justice and anyone who encourages this to happen is equally encouraging the interference in the administration of justice.”

Earlier on Tuesday, premier Gladys Berejiklian faced criticism for signalling to unvaccinated residents that they would enjoy the same freedoms from December.

Berejiklian said the state was in fact treating unvaccinated residents more harshly than recommended in the Doherty Institute modelling.

“No matter what decision I announced yesterday, I would’ve been criticised,” she told the ABC.

“The Doherty report recommended from 80% that unvaccinated people participate in society. We said no, we’re going harder and more conservative.”

Hazzard said, regardless of the government’s position, individual businesses would continue to bar unvaccinated residents. He pointed to Qantas, which has already announced no unvaccinated person will be able to board international flights.

“What needs to be remembered is that there are many, many businesses who will actually make it very clear that as at 1 December, if you haven’t been vaccinated, you won’t be welcome and I think the airlines have made that very clear,” he said. “There are a lot of other businesses saying the same thing and I think people need to understand that a balancing act had to be struck.”

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