A surfer walks past a sign for a COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney. ( AFP / Steven Saphore)

Hoax posts mislead on Sydney Covid-19 rules

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

As lockdown tightened in Australia's largest city Sydney, Facebook posts purported to share a list of new virus restrictions, including compulsory face masks "at all times" outdoors and "mandatory" Covid-19 testing by highway patrol officers. The posts sparked anger online. However, the claim is false; the posts share a graphic that has been doctored from a tweet by Australian broadcaster 9 News and authorities in New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, said the advice was incorrect.

"FROM 5PM 10/7/21 #Face masks to be worn at all times while's [sic] outside. #4DEMERIT POINTS and up to $1500 fine if caught driving without a valid reason and breaching restrictions. #Mandatory COVID testing to be conducted by authorised NSW highway patrol officers," reads a tweet posted on July 11.

The post features a photo of New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian and the logo of 9 News.

A screenshot of the misleading tweet as of July 14, 2021.

The same graphic was shared here, here and here, prompting criticism from Facebook users.

"Is this true what is happening in your country?" one person commented.

"Nope. 100% unlawful. Do not comply. Do not consent," another wrote.

The graphic surfaced as Sydney extended a lockdown in a bid to bring a fast-spreading outbreak of the coronavirus Delta variant under control. 

However, the information in the graphic is incorrect.

Covid-19 restrictions 

A NSW Health spokesperson said the graphic shared "incorrect public health advice".

"NSW Health is urging people to use trusted and credible sources of information to find out what you can and can’t do in Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour)," the spokesperson told AFP.

"The warning follows the circulation of incorrect public health advice in the community and on social media regarding Greater Sydney restrictions, including about mask wearing and who is conducting COVID-19 testing."

Face masks do not need to be worn outside at all times, according to the state government's website.

There are also no specific rules on driving without a valid reason during lockdown. However, stay-at-home rules in Sydney requires citizens to have a reasonable excuse to leave home, such as to buy food, exercise or travel to work if it is not possible to work from home.

Additionally, there is no information on the NSW Health website that police officers would conduct mandatory Covid-19 testing.

Doctored graphic

A reverse image search on Google found the misleading graphic appears to have been manipulated from this graphic tweeted by 9 News Sydney on July 9, which quotes Berejiklian on the potential extension of Covid-19 restrictions.

AFP has previously debunked misinformation around Covid-19 in New South Wales, including hoax reports of outbreaks and posts falsely claiming the state declared the pandemic was over.