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Church v state: police raid synagogue, 100 worshippers fined

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Up to 100 worshippers who gathered near a synagogue in Melbourne’s southeast in breach of COVID-19 lockdown rules will be fined by police.

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People were spotted entering a building, believed to be a prayer room, near a Ripponlea synagogue early on Tuesday morning to mark the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

In the afternoon, officers surrounded both front and back entrances of the building, where an Orthodox Jewish group was believed to be congregating upstairs.

The stand-off ended just after 8pm, with several people filing outside and a group of traditionally dressed worshippers became aggressive.

Victoria has recorded 221 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, of which 98 were linked to known outbreaks, with the source of the remaining 123 infections under investigation. It brings the total number of active COVID-19 cases in the state to 1920.

A Nine cameraman at the synagogue was pushed and the group briefly chanted and clapped in the alleyway, with police taking their details before moving them on.

“All adults who attended will be issued with a $5452 fine. A number of children who were present will not be fined,” a Victoria Police spokesman said in a statement.

“Investigators believe a number of other people were present and are yet to be spoken to by police. Investigators are working to identify them.”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp called out the gathering saying everyone needs to be united in stopping the spread of the Delta strain of COVID-19.

“Everybody empathises there are special occasions and religious occasions and times that we want to be together with others. All of us feel that way,” she told Nine Network on Wednesday.

“But it is just not fair that some members of the community feel that they can flout the rules and getaway with it.”

In August, Victoria Police handed out more than $300,000 in fines to the hosts and guests of an illegal engagement party at Caulfield North. It was hosted by a prominent Jewish family.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he recognised Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish New Year festival, as a significant time for the community.

“But we all have to be safe in everything we do, regardless of what might motivate us,” he said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Andrews took a swipe at the federal government over reports COVID-hit NSW is receiving 45 per cent of Pfizer doses despite having about 32 per cent of Australia’s population.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt flatly rejected the claim NSW was getting more than its fair share, saying doses were initially prioritised to Victoria during its previous outbreak to save lives.

To help get more shots in arms, Victoria is adding 40,000 vaccination appointments each week at state-run hubs.

Meanwhile, workers on construction sites across the state will from Wednesday be offered vaccinations as part of a joint initiative by employers, unions and the state government.

Some 30,000 doses will be available and there will also be rapid testing on sites to help find any asymptomatic cases.

The first phase of the program will begin with 1000 workers rolling up their sleeves for vaccination.

“It’s time to get the jab done, so Australia can re-open, and we can all get back to work,” Master Builders Victoria CEO Rebecca Casson said in a statement.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

Melbourne will remain under tough lockdown restrictions until at least 70 per cent of eligible Victorians receive their first vaccine.

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