Sixty followers – half of them children – gathered illegally in the hotspot western suburb of Blacktown on Sunday, prompting fed-up neighbours to call the police.
There was no check-in code and some in the congregation had travelled from various other local government hotspots, including Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield and Liverpool.
Thirty adults were each fined $1000, with the church also fined $5000 for a gathering held in defiance of a lockdown aimed at preventing more deaths and reining in the hundreds of new cases NSW is recording each day.
On Wednesday, NSW Police announced that 27 of the same attendees had each been fined an extra $500 for failing to wear masks.
The pastor of the church – a local branch of LoveWorld Incorporated, also known as Christ Embassy – was also given a prohibition notice, banning him from holding any services for seven days.
The global leader of the Christ Embassy church has claimed COVID-19 vaccines alter people’s DNA and has been sanctioned twice in six months in the UK for pedalling misinformation about the virus.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said police were very concerned that some churches live-streaming services were breaching restrictions, by singing and by failing to wear masks and physically distance.
Other churches were still urging their congregations to attend in-person services too, he said.
“There’s proactive work going around talking to pastors and others at those churches to dissuade them from doing that,” he said on Wednesday.
“But Commissioner (Mick) Fuller has made it very clear that that activity cannot go on and police will go to those locations at those times and take the appropriate action.”
Worboys also defended police discretion in handing out fines, after a couple were issued infringement notices for stopping to eat in public – an activity allowed outside the hotspot areas under the public health order.
“Every day I come here and talk about hundreds of infringement notices, 537 again in the last 24 hours, and those infringement notices are issued to people that don’t sit in that grey area, that clearly sit outside of the public health order,” he said.
“In terms of food, people need to understand that it’s take away.”
A record number of daily locally acquired COVID-19 cases was recorded on Wednesday – 919 – and another two people died.Jump to next article