Outdoor recreation rules have been in place since the imposition of COVID restrictions at the start of the Delta outbreak in Sydney. This may come as a surprise to some, as it seems the rules are not well known or understood.
Under the outdoor recreation rules, people are allowed out of their homes to undertake “recreational” activities. The rules are similar to the outdoor exercise rules but they mean you don’t have to keep moving in order to be outside.
If you’ve been wondering why there are so many people hanging out in parks or at the beach, seemingly with a total disregard for the rules, here’s everything you need to know about the recreation policy in NSW.
NSW Recreation Rules Explained
Depending on where you live, most people in NSW under lockdown restrictions are allowed to leave their homes, head to the local park or beach, and soak up some sun.
The NSW public health orders permit outdoor recreation including “outdoor leisure activities” and NSW Health gives examples of “sitting for relaxation,” as well as eating, drinking, and reading outdoors as the types of things you’re able to do.
The recreation rules have similar conditions to the exercise rules. You can engage in recreational activities with people you live with or with one other person from another household but not both at the same time.
Recreation must be undertaken within your LGA or within 5kms of your home.
If you live in one of the 12 Greater Sydney LGAs of concern, however, you can’t go outside for recreation.
Those areas are Bayside, Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool, Parramatta, Strathfield, and some suburbs of Penrith.
In those areas though, you are still allowed to go out for exercise with one other person you don’t live with or members of your household.
You can also supervise children under 12 while they play outside.
What Counts as Recreation in NSW?
NSW Health doesn’t explicitly list the activities that fall under the banner of recreation, and in many cases, it’s up to the individual to decide whether they can justify their action under that label.
It’s part of NSW’s broader approach to the pandemic, which seems to put greater emphasis on individual responsibility — and shifts it away from government.
Speaking to a member of the NSW Health team on the phone, recreation was defined as something “you think counts as recreation”.
While this is less than helpful, NSW Health did attempt to clarify recreation on Instagram last Friday as part of their ‘Fact Check Friday’ events.
When asked “People have told me recreation includes being able to sit out to eat/drink,” NSW Health replied “This is correct. If you are outside the LGAs of concern you can do this. Just not with people outside your household!”
This is somewhat complicated by the fact that police have been reportedly moving people on in areas of Greater Sydney for sitting and relaxing with others.
Recently, police have been going “high-level enforcement,” as instructed by Commissioner Mick Fuller, dishing out $1000 fines left and right to people in Sydney for simply sitting down to enjoy their coffee.
Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Sam Lee told the Sydney Morning Herald that a number of clients had contacted the service “after doing just that”, including being fined for sitting on a park bench.
“Some have gone to the park to exercise and stopped while they’re exercising and just sit down and were fined $1000 on the spot,” Ms Lee said.
Concrete Playground has advised that people are allowed to sit outside for a picnic, though, given the above, that may not be advisable.
The Lithgow Mercury reports that “Recreational boating and fishing are allowed,” despite the fact that these activities don’t appear on any official lists of permitted activities — primarily because those lists don’t exist.
These water activities include using power, sail and paddle craft, the Mercury reported. The rules also incorporate things like swimming and sunbaking.
Fishing offshore is allowed but only within five kilometres from your house. LGAs only cover land and do not extend offshore.
At the end of the day, much of the public health orders in NSW are up to interpretation and police have the ultimate authority to decide what constitutes compliance and what doesn’t.
Sitting in the park for the purposes of recreation (as opposed to some non-recreational park sitting, sitting with intent) should be allowed under the public health order definition but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to argue this with a police officer — and potentially end up having to challenge a ticket in court.
There are fines in place for people who fail to comply with the rules and being in breach of the recreation rules can land you with a $3000 on-the-spot-fine.
The confusion really speaks to the ad-hoc and impromptu nature of the lockdown in NSW and the fact that individuals will end up paying the price for unclear guidelines that police themselves don’t even seem to understand.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant has said that people should not be looking for loopholes in the rules and just follow them as best they can.
“You know the intent. Please minimise your movements. Stay at home. We can get through this and I’m very confident with all the efforts in place that we can, but we need everyone to play their part,” she said.
NSW recorded 753 cases of COVID on Tuesday, August 24.