An Australian church has been heavily fined for holding a gathering just hours before strict lockdown measures came into force.
Christ Embassy Sydney was penalised by New South Wales police for failing to display a QR code at the entrance and holding a gathering. They were also accused of allowing people from other Covid-19 hotspot local government areas to attend. The authorities issued $1,000 AUD fines to thirty church members and slapped the church with a $5,000 AUD penalty, culminating in a grand total of $35,000 AUD (approx $25,000 USD).
The police minister, David Elliott, said he was “quite stunned” by the breach, highlighting that the church is located in the area of Blacktown, which is a Covid hotspot.
"When you consider churches are there to profess the message of hope and love and to have those people just endanger communities because they are actually potentially going to spread a virus is just extraordinary," he said.
"If cathedrals can stream online their services I don't know why suburban churches in Blacktown can't."
In a video of the service, pastor Marvin Osaghae could be seen praying against lockdowns across the state.
"In the cities of NSW, in the name of Jesus, we declare the lockdowns are over. In the name of Jesus, we refuse every lockdown in our cities," he said.
"We declare that it is well with the government of NSW, it is well with the people of this state, there is peace in the land, people have peace in their jobs, in their businesses, their businesses are returning to normal, every park is coming back alive, the streets are coming back alive."
Police said that sixty people were inside, including adults and children.
Across Sydney’s coronavirus hotspots, residents are now subject to a curfew. In addition, everyone in the state is mandated to wear a mask outside their homes. New South Wales recorded 818 new Covid cases yesterday, with the state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitting that a zero-Covid target was now "completely unrealistic".
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, himself an outspoken Christian, has backed NSW's plan to end the lockdown once 70-80 per cent of the population are vaccinated. Then, he said, it is time to open up regardless.
"You can't live with lockdowns forever and at some point you need to make that gear change and that is done at 70 per cent because that's where we are advised from the medical science that you can make that gear change," he told ABC's Insiders on Sunday.
"Once you do that, then you can move into focusing on the public health issues of hospitalisation and serious illness. Case numbers are not the whole story but right now, of course, we need to make the lockdowns effective, we need to suppress the virus as best we can, and we need for people to isolate, stay at home, get tested and of course, go and get vaccinated."