Victoria’s premier has taken aim at “selfish” Melbourne residents still not following tough coronavirus rules, asserting there was no excuse to not be complying with public health orders.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday said individuals basing self-centred choices around their own sense of “personal liberty” could ruin the state’s COVID-19 recovery for everyone else.
It comes as a number of videos circulated online posted by residents in confrontation with police and staff at Bunnings because they refused to wear a mask, citing their personal freedom while spouting a limited understanding of the law.
One woman, dubbed online as ‘Karen from Bunnings’, appears to be an adherent of a so-called “sovereign citizen” community, a loose group of people online who downplay the existence of the novel coronavirus and engage with far-fetched conspiracy theories.
She filmed herself aggressively confronting Bunnings staff members after being asked to wear a mask.
People intentionally flouting the mandatory face covering rule within Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, which came into force last week, would be dealt with accordingly, Mr Andrews said.
“The Chief Health Officer, under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act makes orders. If those directions are not followed, police are able to fine you,” Mr Andrews told reporters this morning.
“It is a $200 fine. It should never come to that. (But) if it was a genuine error, a sense of any confusion, then police use good judgement,” Mr Andrews reiterated.
“They are about trying to be as fair as they possibly can be, but if you are just making a selfish choice [about] your alleged personal liberty, quoting some, I don't know, something you've read on some website – this is not about human rights.”
Victoria recorded 459 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday and a further 10 deaths - seven men and three women.
Mr Andrews implored rule-breaking residents of the state to consider the victims and frontline workers when they were making decisions about whether or not to wear a mask.
“There are 10 families that are going to be burying someone in the next few days. Wear a mask! It's not too much to ask,” he said.
“What's more, the nurse who will be treating you or a loved one, they will be wearing a mask, so you wear one to prevent that nurse from having to treat more patients.”
“It can't get any more serious than that. Ten families are currently planning funerals. And the youngest among them is someone in their 40s.
“Please wear a mask. Everyone! And if you don't, you will get fined.”
A series of videos have emerged online showing heated confrontations between rule defiers and both police and retail employees.
One woman filmed her own confrontation with staff inside a Bunnings Warehouse store in Melbourne, where it is a condition of entry that customers must wear a face covering.
The woman claimed that being requested to wear a face covering was a “breach of the charter of human rights” and told staff “you cannot do that”.
“It is unlawful, and it is discriminatory, and it is illegal. And I’m going to continue going in here and getting what I need because it is unlawful for you to do that,” the woman told one of the workers.
Wait til this Karen finds out about 'no shoes, no shirt, no service'. pic.twitter.com/2dvLE90dOa
— cam smith (@sexenheimer) July 25, 2020
The staff member informed the woman it was required of her to wear a face covering as per the company’s policies, which applied to all shoppers.
After the footage went viral, the woman’s actions have been criticised heavily, including by Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen who praised the composure of the Bunnings workers.
“A big shout out to these Bunnings employees and all the others quietly and calmly doing their bit to protect public health in the face of selfish, aggressive and inappropriate behaviour by a very small number of people,” he wrote on Twitter.
Rob Scott, Managing Director and CEO of Wesfarmers Group, which owns Bunnings Warehouse, was later tweeted by a reporter who argued the staff “deserve a bonus for the professional way they handled this”.
Others were also quick to praise the staff.
“Those Bunnings staff are super impressive, and don’t forget they are frontline workers putting themselves at risk by going to work only to have to deal with numbskulls,” ABC journalist Zoe Daniel wrote on Twitter.
Social media was awash on Sunday of Australians critical of the woman, and her reasoning.
“So disappointing that such an eminent expert on international law is unaware of biosecurity legislation, shop trading laws, and health and safety regulations,” one person joked.
In a separate video, a woman filmed her interaction with a police officer who asked her why she wasn’t wearing a mask. It was not clear if she was the same person depicted in the Bunnings video.
She was heard telling the officer he was “required” to hand over a written copy of his identification number and claimed “I have not committed a crime”.
“You have,” he informed her. “You’ve breached the covid restrictions,” the police officer said.
A video of the dispute filmed from a distance showed a woman appearing to resist being arrested.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.