The family of an eight-year-boy who drowned while on school camp has been denied a Victorian government lockdown exemption for his funeral.
Cooper Onyett drowned at a Port Fairy indoor swimming pool last week while on school camp with his year two class from Merrivale Primary School.
His family had planned to hold his funeral in their hometown of Warrnambool, 250 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, on Friday.
But, under the rules of Victoria’s strict seven-day lockdown, funerals are restricted to 10 mourners, plus those required to conduct the service. Friday was the first full day of the shutdown.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton confirmed health department staff had spoken to the Onyett family, but their request had been declined.
“I think these are the most difficult decisions for the exemptions team to make and it’ll be weighing extremely heavily on them,” Professor Sutton said on Friday.
“This is the most tragic circumstance. I can’t express enough my sorrow for the family.”
Professor Sutton said he had no say in the decision and did not know why the request had been declined, but “equity issues” for others holding funerals during lockdown would have been a consideration.
Acting Premier James Merlino also expressed his condolences.
“This is an awfully, awfully tragic case, every parent’s worst nightmare,” he said.
On Thursday, Cooper’s mother Skye Meinen said she was “shocked and angered” by the restrictions on regional Victoria, where there have been no positive cases of COVID-19. There are exposure sites to other confirmed cases in central Victoria.
“We really need support tomorrow from family and friends to get us through this,” she said.
“We’ve all been so strong … it would be detrimental to rip away the support that we’ve all welcomed and needed.”
Relative Tennielle Onyett posted on Facebook that nothing anyone could say would take away the family’s pain.
“Oh Cooper … This wasn’t how your life was meant to go. This wasn’t how your story was meant to end. You had so much left to do. So much left to achieve. So much left to give,” she wrote.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the family cover Cooper’s funeral costs has already raised more than $95,000.