News Worshippers fined as Vic confirms 221 more COVID cases
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Worshippers fined as Vic confirms 221 more COVID cases

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Victorian Police will fine people who gathered at a synagogue in Ripponlea. Photo: AAP
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Victoria has confirmed 221 more local coronavirus cases, as six people who attended an illegal religious gathering in Melbourne’s south-east have collectively been fined more than $32,000.

The health department reported 98 of Wednesday’s infections were linked to known outbreaks.

The sources of the remaining 123 are still under investigation.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 1920.

In the 24 hours to Wednesday morning, 42,429 tests were processed and 36,716 Victorians received a vaccine dose at a state-run hub.

Premier Daniel Andrews said 62.2 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 had had a first vaccine dose, while 38.6 per cent were fully vaccinated.

“We are ahead of our schedule in terms of our one million doses over five weeks. We got some 246,000 of those to go,” he said.

“We will beat the five-week mark and that’s fantastic news – and then we’ll set a new goal and a new target for even more vaccinations.”

Also on Wednesday, Victoria Police they had fined six adults $5452 each, totalling $32,712, for attending a gathering of up to 30 people to mark the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, in breach of lockdown restrictions.

Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett said more fines would be issued “today or in coming days”, as he urged those who attended the gathering to come forward.

“My advice is really clear to the people who were there last night – come forward, identify yourselves and allow us to process you through our systems and apply the law as it is today,” he said.

Up to 100 members of the Orthodox Jewish congregation were initially thought to have entered a building, believed to be a prayer room, near a Ripponlea synagogue early on Tuesday morning and told police they wouldn’t leave until nightfall.

Police covered the building’s front and back entrances and took details of those who began to file out just after 8pm.

Mr Barrett said police chose to wait outside the synagogue because there were many children present. When the doors finally opened, another group of people arrived to distract police.

“[That caused] us to then have to respond to that, which then sees a number of people in that venue, as I understand it now, to exit windows and flee over roofs of neighbouring properties,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.

“It’s pretty appalling behaviour.”

Mr Barrett said the number who attended was still being investigated, but he had been advised it was “between 20 and 30”.

Several worshippers became aggressive and an overnight news cameraman is being treated for a concussion at The Alfred hospital after being assaulted.

Mr Barrett said the assault had been reported to police and would be investigated.

Police will remain in the area for the remainder of the Jewish new year, which ends after sundown on Wednesday.

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria said the actions of a few “do not represent the vast majority of our community” who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah at home with only the people they lived with.

“The JCCV expresses its strong disappointment in and condemns the actions of a small group of people who appear to have not followed COVID restrictions,” a spokesman said.

He said local organisations “have gone to great lengths” to encourage the community to stay within the rules.

Local MP Josh Burns also condemned the gathering.

“It is deeply frustrating. One of the great things about the community is that people do come together and it is a very tight-knit community – but most people would be looking at these images going, ‘this is appalling’,” he said.

“And most people from within the Jewish community would be going, ‘this is appalling’. People have been doing the right thing. For the small number that is not, it is very disappointing.”

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy also urged everyone to follow public health orders.

“No one’s above the law, whether the Premier or politicians or individuals, no one’s above the law. People should adhere to it, or face the fines,” he said.

-with AAP