Travel restrictions to remote communities

The Australian Government enacted emergency restrictions on entry to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (‘designated areas’) to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

These restrictions were made under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cwlth) and are currently in place until 17 September 2020.

The Queensland Government has worked with the mayors and local leadership in the designated areas to enable communities to plan for transition from the current federal emergency biosecurity restrictions to state-based arrangements under Queensland’s Chief Health Officer’s public health directions.

Queensland’s roadmap to recovery

Queensland’s Roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions outlines the state-wide approach towards a COVID-19 safe recovery.

A specific approach has been developed for Queensland’s remote communities that have had restrictions in place under the Biosecurity Determination. The Roadmap to easing access restrictions for Queensland’s remote communities (PDF, 101 KB)includes a three stage approach:

Stage 1

From 1 June 2020, access to designated areas remain restricted under the Biosecurity Act, however residents will no longer have to quarantine outside of community if they leave, unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Decisions about whether communities can move safely to Stage 2 or Stage 3 will be made by the Chief Health Officer based on public health conditions for each community and in consultation with local leaders. Every community must have a COVID-19 response plan.

Stage 2

From 12 June 2020 – this date is subject to when the Commonwealth removes designated areas from the Biosecurity Direction.

The Commonwealth Biosecurity Act will be replaced by the Queensland Government’s Chief Health Officer Direction – Restricted Access to Remote Communities.

The new directive will allow residents to travel within a Safe Travel Zone with no requirement to self-quarantine when they return home. If they travel outside a Safe Travel Zone they must quarantine on return, unless the travel was for essential medical treatment.

Stage 3

Entry and quarantine restrictions no longer apply for communities that are declared by the Chief Health Officer as being in Stage 3.

Communities in Stage 3 will still be subject to the same provisions as other Queenslanders.

If an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs in a community they may transition back to State 2 and follow the Chief Health Officer Directions.

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Conditions of entry

  • Completed 14 days quarantine unless you have an exemption (note from 1 June 2020 approved people are able to self-quarantine in community)
  • No COVID-19 related symptoms in the last 14 days 
  • No overseas travel in the last 14 daysNot entering for the purpose of breaking the law
  • Not prohibited from entering by any other law
  • Have an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ (for essential services workers only).

Quarantine

You must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days unless you have an exemption.

Quarantine means staying in your accommodation and not leaving for 14 days. You should not have visitors to the place where you are in quarantine. This can be done within the community, as directed.

Your council or disaster management group can provide advice about local quarantine requirements and any exemptions process in your area.

Essential services workers

Essential services workers with an approved human biosecurity management plan are the exception to the 14 day quarantine rule. Essential workers do not need to go into quarantine before entering a community but they must not have shown signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or been outside of Australia in the 14 days before entry.

Essential workers must carry with them an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’.  

Essential workers may also applying for a Remote Communities Pass. This is designed to make the entry process easier. You can present your pass on your smart phone or as a printed hard-copy at police check points.

Visit www.qld.gov.au/border-pass to apply. Select ‘Travelling to or through remote communities’ and complete the form.

You may also find the Australian Government’s Keeping communities safe from coronavirus: remote area travel restrictions infographic useful in understanding the restrictions.

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Human biosecurity management plans

If you are providing essential services, you will need an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ to gain entry to designated restricted remote communities.

Your organisation is responsible for screening you before you enter a restricted community to ensure you do not have:

  • a fever of 38 degrees or above

  • a history of fever (including symptoms of a fever such as night sweats or chills)

  • symptoms of acute respiratory infection (including shortness of breath, a cough, sore throat and/or fatigue).

You must carry your ‘human biosecurity management’ plan on you at all times, including at entry, and follow its conditions at all times. If you require advice about how to obtain an approved human biosecurity management plan for your organisation, please read the Frequently asked questions for industry.

Approved human biosecurity management plan

The Generic Biosecurity Plan (PDF, 130 KB) (PDF) has been endorsed by the Chief Human Biosecurity Officer of Queensland. Any service delivery organisations adopting this plan will be considered to have met the requirement to have a human biosecurity management plan in place.

To use it, complete the form including dates and signatures, and carry a copy with you when you go to the restricted communities. You will need to produce it to enter the community, and on request while working there.

Tailored human biosecurity management plans

If you would like to develop a human biosecurity management plan tailored to your business and circumstances, you will need to have it approved before you can rely on it for entry to restricted communities.

Please send your tailored plan to a Biosecurity Officer for consideration. They will assess it and let you know if it has been approved.

If you are unsure who the relevant Biosecurity Officer is for the community you want to visit, contact the local council in that area for assistance.

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Remote Communities Pass

Essential services workers can apply for a Remote Communities Pass which is designed to make the entry process quicker and easier.

They are similar in concept to the border passes people apply for when they cross the Queensland border during COVID-19 restrictions.

They make it easier for essential workers to have all necessary information required for entry (including an approved human biosecurity management plan), ensuring they are on their way as soon as possible.

Essential workers can present their pass on their smart phone or as a printed hard-copy at police check points.

Visit www.qld.gov.au/border-pass to apply. Select ‘Travelling to or through remote communities’ and complete the form.

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Frequently asked questions for community and travellers

What do I need to know about COVID-19?

All levels of government in Australia are working together to slow the spread of COVID-19 to save lives.

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 allows us to better prepare our health system and save Australian lives.

Everyone must practise good hygiene and social distancing, and follow restrictions on social gatherings and travel.

Not following these important rules puts everyone — but particularly older people and those with chronic health conditions — at risk of serious illness and even death.

Learn more about COVID-19 including the symptoms, prevention, hygiene tips and exactly what social distancing means. 

Read more about Queensland’s response to COVID-19

How do the travel restrictions work?

From 1 June 2020 under the Chief Health Officer Public Health Directions residents will no longer have to quarantine outside of community if they leave, unless they have COVID-19 related symptoms or are unable to satisfy other pre-conditions of entry.

Who won’t need to quarantine?

  • Workers with an approved biosecurity plan.
  • Workers entering for an urgent purpose (no requirement for an approved bio-security plan)
  • People travelling through a community but not stopping.
  • Exemptions provided by the Chair of the Local Disaster Management Group

If you are entering a restricted community you must meet the following entry conditions:

  • No COVID-19 related symptoms in the last 14 days 
  • No overseas travel in the last 14 days
  • Not entering for the purpose of breaking the law
  • Not prohibited from entering by any other law
  • Have an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ (essential services workers only).

The quarantine rules apply every time you want to enter a restricted community.

Queensland Police can enforce the restrictions.

If you live in a large combined biosecurity zone like the Cape area or Burke/Doomadgee local government areas, you may be able to travel 150km without leaving your designated area.

As part of these restrictions you must continue to practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene, and stay home if you’re sick.

What do I need to know about travelling for non-essential and recreational activities?

As part of Stage 1 of Queensland’s roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions, from 11.59pm Friday 15 May 2020, new restrictions about recreational travel, undertaking non-essential activities and gatherings are in place and will apply to people differently, depending on where they live.

If you live in a remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community within a designated area, you can travel within a 150km range of your home address for day trips only.

However, if travelling this distance takes you outside the designated area you live in, you will need to go into quarantine at your own expense before returning home.

You can travel to visit non-essential shops, libraries, cafes, pools, playgrounds and parks. 

You can go on outings with a maximum of nine other people (10 in the group in total), who can be family members or people from other households. Children and infants are counted individually as part of this limit.

As part of these restrictions you must continue to practise social distancing, maintain good hygiene, and stay home if you’re sick.

Are there any exemptions for essential workers?

There are exemptions to the 14-day quarantine rule for essential workers so that important services like food, emergency and police services, and health care can continue to be delivered.

Essential workers must not show signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or have been outside of Australia in the 14 days before entry.

They must carry an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ at entry and while in a community, and follow its conditions at all times.

This rule applies to all essential and non-urgent workers including police and health workers who leave a community and need to return for their next shift.

Essential workers can enter a community without an approved plan for urgent activities such as health and police activities to keep a community safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Emergency access can be granted by the relevant decision-maker (the chair of the Local Disaster Management Group — normally the mayor) in conjunction with advice from a human biosecurity officer (normally a Queensland Health officer).

Essential workers can also apply for a Remote Communities Pass. This is designed to make the entry process easier. You can present your pass on your smart phone or as a printed hard-copy at police check points.

Visit the Queensland border pass website to apply. Select ‘Travelling to or through remote communities’ and complete the form.

See ‘What are essential services’ for more information about essential workers.

What are the restricted areas?

Travel restrictions apply to the following areas:

Combined designated area 1 – Cape communities

The local government areas of Aurukun, Cook, Hope Vale, Kowanyama, Lockhart River, Mapoon, Napranum, Northern Peninsula Area, Pormpuraaw, Torres Strait Island, Torres, Wujal Wujal.

Effective 12:01am Friday 24 April 2020, Weipa is included in this combined designated area.

Combined designated area 2 – Burke and Doomadgee

The local government areas of Burke and Doomadgee.

Other designated areas –

The local government areas of Cherbourg, Mornington, Palm Island, Woorabinda, Yarrabah.

When do the restrictions start and when do they end?

The restrictions started at 11:59am AEDST Thursday 26 March 2020.

Additional restrictions requiring essential workers to have an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ began at 11.59 AEST on Tuesday 7 April 2020.

The Queensland Government is working on a plan with communities to enable a staged and careful lifting of remote area biosecurity restrictions when it is safe to do so. This will be done in a way that minimises the risk of COVID-19 for remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The timeframe and restrictions may vary between communities.

Relaxations in effect across Queensland — under Stage 1 of the roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions — extend to communities in designated areas. This means that people can enjoy gatherings once playground equipment, parks and public pools reopen.

What penalties apply if I do not comply with the restrictions?

Queensland Police Service officers can enforce movement restrictions. Both State and Commonwealth laws may apply.

Under Queensland legislation, the maximum penalty for a person failing to comply with a relevant direction from a police officer is $13,345.

Under the Commonwealth legislation, the maximum penalty for anyone who contravenes a requirement of the Commonwealth declaration is five years imprisonment and/or a maximum penalty of $63,000.

Can I travel to/through the restricted areas?

All travellers are encouraged to seek other routes if possible.

You should only travel to the restricted designated areas if this is the most direct, practical route to your destination.

You must not stop or have contact with people from the community as you pass through.

Queensland Police can issue on-the-spot fines if you fail to comply with any of the restrictions.

See ‘What penalties apply if I do not comply with the restrictions’ for more information.

How do the restrictions work if I’m entering for a short time?

Everyone entering or re-entering a community with restrictions in place must go into quarantine for 14 days — even if they only need to be in the community for a short time.

There are exemptions for essential workers and emergencies.

However, essential workers must meet strict criteria to enter communities with travel restrictions in place.

See ‘Are there exemptions for essential workers’ for more information about the entry requirements.

I’m in community. How does this affect me?

The safest place for you is your community, homeland or outstation.

If you are there, we encourage you to stay there.

If you go outside the restricted area and want to return, you will need to quarantine for 14 days when you come back unless you have successfully applied for an exemption. This can be done within the community, as directed.

Your council or disaster management group can provide advice about requirements and the exemptions process in your local area.

From 11.59pm Friday 15 May 2020, as part of Stage 1 of Queensland’s Roadmap to Easing COVID-19 restrictions (PDF), you can leave your home for some non-essential activities provided you practice social distancing, good hygiene and stay within a 150km range of your home and within your designated biosecurity area.

If your activity takes you outside the designated biosecurity area you live in, you will need to quarantine for 14 days when you return to the community.

If you live in a large combined biosecurity zone like Cape York or Burke/Doomadgee local government areas, you may be able to travel 150km without exiting your designated area.

If you live in a smaller biosecurity zone that is only your local government area — such as Cherbourg, Mornington Island, Woorabinda, Palm Island and Yarrabah — you will have to stay within your local government boundary to avoid having to quarantine for 14 days when returning home.

The quarantine requirements are to make sure no one brings COVID-19 into the community from outside. It can take 14 days for symptoms to show.

Be sure to practice social distancing and maintain good hygiene while you are in your community. Information about how to do this is available at www.health.qld.gov.au/coronavirus.

There are also restrictions around the number of people who can attend funeral services.

You will need to plan for different ways of doing Sorry Business, funerals and other cultural activities during this time. Read more about how to do these events differently.

How do the restrictions affect community members wanting to return home?

If you want to return to your community, from 1 June 2020 you are able to quarantine for 14 days in your community unless you have successfully applied for an exemption.

Your council or disaster management group can provide advice about requirements and the exemptions process in your local area.

The quarantine requirements are to make sure no one brings COVID-19 into the community from outside. It can take 14 days for symptoms to show.

Be sure to practice social distancing and maintain good hygiene while you are in your community. Information about how to do this is available at www.health.qld.gov.au/coronavirus.

Old people are precious, and we must work together to do everything we can to protect them from the spread of COVID-19.

You will need to plan for different ways of doing Sorry Business, funerals and other cultural activities during this time. Read more about how to do these events differently.

Can I travel between my homeland and community?

You can move between your homeland and community if it is within a ‘designated area’.

Restricted or ‘designated areas’ are generally large and may include groups of communities and homelands/outstations. Travel within the designated area (including between islands within that area) is permitted and is not disrupted by these restrictions.

However, it is important that you minimise travel and practise social distancing. Check with your local council to understand where you can move without needing to go into quarantine for 14 days when you return.

From 11.59pm Friday 15 May 2020, you can leave your home for some non-essential activities provided you practice social distancing, good hygiene and stay within 150km of home and within a designated biosecurity area.

If your activity takes you outside the designated area you live in, you will need to quarantine for 14 days at your own expense before coming back in.

If you live in a large combined biosecurity zone like the Cape area or Burke/Doomadgee local government areas, you may be able to travel 150km without exiting your designated area.

If you live in a smaller biosecurity zone that is only your local government area — such as Cherbourg, Mornington Island, Woorabinda, Palm Island and Yarrabah — you will have to stay within your local government boundary to avoid having to go into quarantine for 14 days before returning home.

If you are unsure whether you will need to go into quarantine when you return, you should check with your local council or a Biosecurity Officer for advice.

Can I go to town for shopping (outside the designated area) and return to my community (inside the designated area)? What if I have to travel to town for my job?

No. You cannot leave a ‘designated area’ and return without having to go into quarantine for 14 days, unless you have an approved exemption.

All efforts are being made by governments to ensure community stores are stocked to provide for community residents.

If you have a job outside a designated area, you won’t be able to return without having to go into quarantine for 14 days, unless you have an approved exemption.

Your council or disaster management group can provide advice about quarantine requirements and the exemptions process in your local area.

How will essential services still be provided?

Essential workers can enter restricted areas to ensure important services can continue to be delivered.

Essential services workers must have an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’ before entering a community to minimise their chances of spreading COVID-19. These plans require their employer to screen them for symptoms of COVID-19 before sending them into the remote, restricted communities.

Essential services include services relating to health care, education, domestic violence prevention, child protection, policing, emergency, rubbish collection, corrections and youth justice, funerals and courts.

Essential services also include operating, maintaining or repairing equipment for providing electricity, gas, water or telecommunications services; other essential infrastructure; delivering food, fuel, mail or medical supplies; obtaining medical care or medical supplies; transporting freight to or from a place in the designated area; and commercial primary production of food or food products, veterinary services, aquaculture or agribusiness.

What can I do to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

We expect to be living with the virus for some time, so it is important that we all do our bit to stop the spread.

You must:

  1. maintain good hygiene — wash your hands regularly!
  2. practice social distancing — stay two big steps clear of other people
  3. stay at home if you are sick, as COVID-19 can spread between people very quickly.

Find out how you can help stop the spread of COVID-19

How did the remote travel restrictions come about?

On 20 March 2020, the National Cabinet provided in-principle agreement to the Commonwealth Minister for Health, taking action under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act 2015 to restrict travel into remote Indigenous communities to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Queensland Government nominated designated areas, in consultation with those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

From 11:59pm AEDST Thursday 26 March 2020, entry restrictions were applied to each ‘designated area’ under the Biosecurity Act.

An amendment to strengthen entry requirements for essential workers began on Tuesday 7 April 2020.

Essential workers are now separated into two categories — ‘essential and urgent’ and ‘essential and non-urgent’ — and have two distinct entry processes.

Essential workers can enter a community without an approved plan for urgent activities such as health and police activities to keep a community safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Emergency access can be granted by the relevant decision-maker (the chair of the Local Disaster Management Group — normally the mayor) in conjunction with advice from a human biosecurity officer (normally a Queensland Health officer).

These additional restrictions are to minimise the risk of essential workers bringing COVID-19 into remote communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander local leadership supports restricted access into their communities.

Why has this been done?

The restrictions have been requested by many leaders, communities and organisations.

In Queensland, many remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities had developed their own restrictions before national restrictions began. The national restrictions provide additional support and enforcement for Queensland’s remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) due to a higher incidence of chronic health conditions including diabetes, renal disease and respiratory issues.

The isolation and remoteness of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities means an outbreak of COVID-19 could be prevented or delayed.

However, community members regularly travel to visit friends and families, and to access outreach activities and services. This travel increases the risk of COVID-19 spreading in these communities.

The travel restrictions in place now aim to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in remote communities and to rapidly address outbreaks.

The Queensland Government will continue to work closely with communities and their local leadership to enable staged and careful easing of remote area Biosecurity restrictions when it is safe to do so, in a way that minimises the risk of COVID-19 for remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We have a plan in place (PDF, 101 KB)to do this.  

We know that these restrictions are tough, and we hope that as we continue to stop the spread of COVID-19, further changes will be made that allow everyone to return to their daily activities.

Queensland’s roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions features ‘COVID safe check points’ at four week intervals, where the Queensland Government will assess the impact of the restrictions.

Where can I find more information?

Restrictions to remote designated areas

Local councils or DATSIP regional office.

Coronavirus and health matters

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Frequently asked questions for industry

What are essential services?

Essential services include:

  • food, fuel, mail and medical deliveries
  • freight to or from a place in the area
  • health care
  • education
  • police and emergency services
  • local government services such as rubbish collection
  • infrastructure operation, maintenance and repair services such as for electricity, gas, water or telecommunications
  • funeral services
  • Centrelink services, programs and facilities
  • domestic violence prevention and recovery services
  • child protection services
  • correctional services
  • court or tribunal sittings
  • commercial primary production of food or food products, veterinary services, aquaculture or agribusiness
  • construction on housing and transport infrastructure that was in progress immediately before 11:59pm AEDST Thursday 26 March 2020
  • mining, oil and gas operations — although people providing these services must minimise contact with people in the community in accordance with instructions from Biosecurity Officers.

What are the entry requirements for essential workers?

People providing essential services can enter the restricted areas as long as they have an approved ‘human biosecurity management plan’, and they have shown no signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or been outside of Australia in the 14 days before entry.

This rule applies to all essential and non-urgent workers including police and health workers who leave a community and need to return for their next shift.

Essential workers can enter a community without an approved plan for urgent activities such as health and police activities to keep a community safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Emergency access can be granted by the relevant decision-maker (the chair of the Local Disaster Management Group — normally the mayor) in conjunction with advice from a human biosecurity officer (normally a Queensland Health officer).

Essential workers can also apply for a Remote Communities Pass. This is designed to make the entry process easier. You can present your pass on your smart phone or as a printed hard-copy at police check points.

Visit the Queensland border pass website to apply. Select ‘Travelling to or through remote communities’ and complete the form.

How do I get an approved human biosecurity management plan?

The Australian Government has updated the Biosecurity Determination to require essential service organisations to have a ‘human biosecurity management plan’ in place before their workers enter remote communities to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19.

This rule applies to all essential and non-urgent workers, including police and health workers who leave a community and need to return for their next shift.

Exemptions

Essential workers can enter a community without an approved plan for urgent activities such as health and police activities to keep a community safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Emergency access can be granted by the relevant decision-maker (the chair of the Local Disaster Management Group — normally the mayor) in conjunction with advice from a human biosecurity officer (normally a Queensland Health officer).

Approved human biosecurity management plan

The Generic Biosecurity Plan (PDF, 130 KB) has been endorsed by the Chief Human Biosecurity Officer of Queensland.

Any service delivery organisations adopting this plan will be considered to have met the requirement to have a human biosecurity management plan in place.

To use it, complete the form including dates and signatures, and carry a copy with you when you go to the restricted communities. You will need to produce it to enter the community, and on request while working there.

Tailored human biosecurity management plans

If you would like to develop a human biosecurity management plan tailored to your business and circumstances, you will need to have it approved before you can rely on it for entry to restricted communities.

Please send your tailored plan to a Biosecurity Officer for consideration. They will assess it and let you know if it has been approved.

If you are unsure who the relevant Biosecurity Officer is for the community you want to visit, contact the local council in that area for assistance.

What is a Remote Communities Pass?

Essential services workers may can apply for a Remote Communities Pass which is designed to make the entry process quicker and easier.

They are similar in concept to the border passes people apply for when they cross the Queensland border during COVID-19 restrictions.

They make it easier for essential workers to have all necessary information required for entry (including an approved human biosecurity management plan), ensuring they are on their way as soon as possible.

Essential workers can present their pass on their smart phone or as a printed hard-copy at police check points.

Visit the Queensland border pass website to apply. Select ‘Travelling to or through remote communities’ and complete the form.

Does this affect miners?

Mining, oil and gas, and related operations are classed as ‘essential non-urgent’ activities.

Essential workers must have an approved human biosecurity management plan before they can enter a designated area.

Workers must not have shown signs and symptoms of COVID-19 or have been outside of Australia in the 14 days before entry.

Additionally, all essential workers must strictly minimise their contact with other people in the area.

Can nurses and teachers leave community to go to town for the weekend and then return to community?

Essential workers who rotate in and out of communities with travel restrictions in place are classified as ‘essential and non-urgent’.

This includes essential workers such as health practitioners, police and teachers.

These essential workers must have an approved human biosecurity management plan before they can enter remote communities.

They must also not have shown signs of symptoms of COVID-19, or have been outside of Australia in the 14 days before entry.

While in a community, these workers must take all reasonable steps to minimise exposure to other people.

Local councils may restrict essential workers from moving in and out of communities on a regular basis. This may apply especially to essential workers who usually live within a community.

How do the Commonwealth remote travel restrictions interact with state restrictions and policies?

The Biosecurity Act remote travel restrictions set a strong standard to protect people living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

States and councils may impose further restrictions according to the individual needs of each council and community.

Where can I find more information?

Restrictions to remote designated areas

Local councils or DATSIP regional office.

Coronavirus and health matters

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Help is available

If you — or someone you care about — is distressed, in crisis, suicidal or needs someone to talk to, help is available.

  • 1300 MH CALL (1300 642255) this service is a confidential mental health telephone triage service for Queenslanders that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services.
  • 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) this service provides 24 hour assessment, referral, advice, and hospital and community health centre contact details.