‘Extraordinary’: Police fine dozens after church service in western Sydney Covid hotspot

NSW police have issued 31 fines to people who attended an illegal Sunday night church service in Blacktown in the heart of Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak hotspots.

Police went to Christ Embassy Sydney church around 7.30pm on Sunday after being tipped off about a gathering in breach of public health orders.

They found a group of about 60 adults and children inside the Fourth Avenue building, listening to a sermon.

Police say there was no QR code at the entrance and some of the congregation came from other Covid-19 hotspot local government areas, including Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield and Liverpool.

Thirty adults were fined $1,000 each and the church was issued a $5,000 penalty.

The police minister, David Elliott, was “quite stunned” by the reckless behaviour, saying if major cathedrals can stream services then suburban churches can as well.

“Churches are there to profess the message of hope and love and to have those people endanger communities … is extraordinary,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Monday.

People in Sydney’s coronavirus hotspots are now subject to a night time curfew and everyone in NSW must wear masks outside their homes under tougher lockdown measures.

After two consecutive days of Covid-19 case numbers above 800, a raft of new public health rules began at 12.01am on Monday.

The harsher measures include a 9pm to 5am curfew for those who live in a dozen Sydney local government areas of concern, and statewide mandatory mask wearing when outdoors, except if exercising.

Another mass vaccination hub is opening on Monday at Penrith Panthers where people aged 16 to 39 living in that western Sydney LGA will be given priority to get a Pfizer jab.

Meanwhile, hardware stores like Bunnings, office supply stores and other retail premises must close in hotspot LGAs except for click-and-collect purchases, and all exams and education activities will move online, except the HSC.

All of NSW is currently in lockdown and police have ramped up enforcement of restrictions as authorities battle to contain the spread of the Delta strain.

NSW reported 830 locally acquired cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday – another daily infection record – as well as three deaths.

As case numbers mount and the elimination of Covid in NSW becomes unfeasible, the health minister, Brad Hazzard, said the health system retained plenty of capacity to handle sick patients.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered at the Queensland-NSW border on Sunday to protest changes to entry requirements between the states, including a man on a large white horse.

NSW Police said protesters had crossed the border between Queensland at Coolangatta and NSW at Tweed Heads, with eight people arrested and 54 fined for breaching public health orders.

Lockdown settings will remain in place in regional NSW until at least August 28 and in greater Sydney until at least September 30.

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