Governments in Victoria and NSW had hoped the threat of police action would be enough to stop illegal lockdown gatherings but it seems residents are still looking for loopholes in the health laws.
Video has emerged of an engagement party in Melbourne’s inner south-east where a man is seen joking that the gathering is for “group therapy”.
The suburb of Balaclava is on alert after two people linked to that party tested positive to the virus.
A pub crawl, a party of about 200 people and a DJ event that was marketed to a crowd of 1000 were among the other Victorian lockdown gatherings that had police busy handing out fines over the weekend.
In NSW, blatant breaches of health orders – including people travelling from Sydney to regional areas – have contributed to the new statewide lockdown.
Sydney boy dies in hospital
That state is reeling from the death of another COVID-positive resident, this time a boy aged just 15.
Osama Suduh died on Sunday after being on life support while suffering from pneumococcal meningitis, a life-threatening infection that causes inflammation around the brain and spine.
He had also tested positive to COVID-19.
The death toll for NSW stands at 48 for this outbreak, and 104 for the entire pandemic in the state. There are 62 people in intensive care in hospital, 24 of them requiring ventilation.
The three women and one man who are the other latest casualties were all from Sydney’s south-west. Only one was fully vaccinated but had underlying health conditions.
While Sydney’s south-west suburbs remain the Delta epicentre, there are serious concerns for residents in regional areas and especially vulnerable remote and Indigenous communities.
Exposure sites named over the weekend, and last updated Sunday afternoon, include venues in Byron Bay, Dubbo, Orange, Mudgee, and Bathurst as well as in Sydney suburbs.
More than half of the new 415 locally-acquired cases to 8pm on Saturday were from Sydney’s west and south-west. The suburbs of Blacktown, Mount Druitt, Marayong, Merrylands, Auburn and Guildford are of most concern.
In NSW’s west, 21 new cases were identified. Health officials are worried, especially in relation to vulnerable Indigenous communities.
“We know that the vast majority of our cases in Dubbo and across the western NSW are Aboriginal, and we know also the vast majority of our cases are also children,” Western NSW Local Health District CEO, Scott McLachlan said on Sunday.
All of NSW is in lockdown and children will be schooled from home from Monday.
Remember, you must only leave home for an essential reason.
- Click here to see a full list of NSW exposure sites
Everyone must carry masks at all times, no visitors are allowed in the home unless for carers’ responsibilities or for compassionate reasons, and those in a relationship.
People in greater Sydney need a permit to travel to regional NSW and single people must register their “singles buddies” if they wish to nominate someone they want to spend time with during lockdown.
NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Mick Willing has warned that 1400 Highway Patrol officers would be on patrol to check residents are doing the right thing.
He said it was an “unprecedented operation” that would see police work with the Australian Defence Force to enforce public health orders.
Police to probe video linked to Jewish community
Victoria Police is also cracking down on large gatherings in breach of Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions and leaders of Melbourne’s Jewish community have been called on to put a stop to some events.
In the inner-city, dozens congregated for a takeaway-drink pub crawl event on the streets of Richmond on Saturday, while in Northcote about 200 people gathered for a street party.
On the Mornington Peninsula, one resident had made plans to invite 1000 people to a house party with a DJ and a stage.
There are also reports of a 100-person engagement party held in Melbourne.
An online account for Melbourne’s Jewish community has advised a community member has tested positive and visited supermarkets in Balaclava while infectious.
The Age has published video of the engagement party that shows a man giving a speech to a large gathering of people who are not wearing masks. They appear to be inside a private home.
The man jokes to the crowd that “clearly this is legal … because this is a group therapy session.”
Former Labor MP Philip Dalidakis told The Age said he recognised people in the video.
“There are people in it that I know and I am speechless. I am genuinely shocked at the brazen disregard for our laws,” Mr Dalidakis said.
“It is important to state clearly and unequivocally, this is an event that is not representative of the overwhelming Jewish community … However, small pockets of our Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox community need to see this event as an opportunity to reset and reflect on just how dangerous and selfish their behaviour has been.”
Members of the Jewish community have also raised concerns that some rabbis are still encouraging in-person religious events.
The Australian Jewish News reports that the Rabbinical Council of Victoria “knows of no mainstream rabbis or congregations who have been involved in illegal minyans, and expressly condemns all such gatherings”.
In response, Mount Scopus Memorial College principal James Kennard wrote “it is painful to speak out against fellow-Jews in public. But at this time, the danger of staying silent is too great”.
“Because the law states that we must stay at home, because the experts tell us that this is the way to save lives, because of the risk of terrible Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name), every rabbi and leader must cry out,” Rabbi Kennard wrote.
“We must take the heartbreaking path and stop the gatherings – for prayer, for s’machot, for school. Just stop.”
Victorian officials said 21 of the state’s cases on Sunday were linked to known outbreaks; 12 were in isolation for their infectious period.
Those unlinked include a cleaner in Greater Dandenong, a construction worker in West Footscray and two St Kilda cases.
A market in Glenroy was named as a new tier-one exposure site on Sunday night, while people in apartment blocks in North Melbourne and Carlton were listed as close contacts and ordered to get tested.
- Click here for the full list of Victorian exposure sites