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Police To Force People Home, Prisoners Released Under Emergency COVID-19 Laws In NSW

Some prisoners would be released early and police could be granted new powers under sweeping emergency laws proposed in NSW, as the state scrambles to deal with Australia's biggest coronavirus toll.

NSW has the most coronavirus cases in the country, and six of the seven deaths so far in the local outbreak. The state government will introduce an emergency bill to parliament on Tuesday, proposing a wide range of new and extraordinary -- albeit temporary, according to attorney-general Mark Speakman -- powers.

"The threat posed by COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, and the needs of families, businesses, workers and governments are changing every day," Speakman said.

"These temporary measures will help ensure we are ready for any development. If urgent action is required to ensure the health and safety of the people of NSW, this Bill will help to empower the relevant experts and public bodies to make tough and swift decisions in the best interests of the community."

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says schools will remain open for those in need, but her government will encourage parents to keep their children at home wherever possible.

Under the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill, the NSW government would empower police to force people to return home if they breach quarantine orders to self-isolate.

Another standout change is an amendment to the Crimes Act to "make Regulations determining a class of offenders for potential conditional release on parole. "

Some prisoners could be released early under the NSW proposal. Image: Getty

Speakman said the "extraordinary measures" would only be used "to respond to the threat of COVID-19", allowing the prison system to consider "vulnerable offenders and others who pose a low risk to the community" for conditional release.

Serious offenders could not be considered under the reform, and all those released would have to abide by strict parole rules, including electronic monitoring or home detention.

NSW has more than 800 coronavirus cases, as of Tuesday's latest update. State premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state's status as Australia's largest, as well as a high number of international tourists, had led to the size of the outbreak.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the state has seen a substantial increase in coronavirus diagnoses, with the state recording 149 new cases overnight.

More changes under the new emergency bill include jury trials in state courts to become less common, with "vulnerable people" not forced to meet jury duty orders.

Speakman said provisional apprehended domestic violence orders would also be vastly increased in length, from 28 days to six months.

"A greater reliance on technology, including increased use of audio visual links and pre-recording evidence of key witnesses, will also help maintain social distancing in our courtrooms," he said.

Rules around planning and assessment of new developments will be waived through "without the normal development approvals" if they are deemed to "protect the health, welfare and safety of the community during the pandemic."

New coronavirus laws have been proposed in NSW. Image: AAP

Other changes to the Retail Trading Act will let supermarkets work through the Easter and Anzac Day holidays. However, employees will not be compelled to work, and Speakman said it would be "their choice" whether to work or not.

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Millions across Queensland will head to the polls next weekend, with authorities taking unprecedented steps to protect voters from coronavirus risk.

Council meetings will be permitted to occur electronically, while September local council elections may also be postponed up until the end of next year, at  the decision of the minister for local government.

“These necessary changes will mean essential public amenities can continue to operate effectively while maintaining the wellbeing of our frontline workers and the broader public," Speakman said.