NSW COVID-positive removalists convicted

·3-min read

Three removalists who travelled to central western NSW from Sydney after testing positive to COVID-19 and placing those communities in "extreme risk" have been convicted and fined $1100 each.

Twins Roni and Ramsin Shawka, 28, and Maryo Shanki, 21, were also sentenced to a one-year community corrections order after pleading guilty to not complying with a COVID-19 direction.

They infected nobody in the vulnerable communities that travelled to.

"But the risk was incredible," magistrate David Day said on Wednesday in the Orange Local Court.

Had the men of Assyrian background who mostly spoke Chaldean not lacked proficiency in English and better understood NSW health officials' directions, the magistrate said he would have no issue sending them to jail.

Another mitigating factor was the twins' mother dying of COVID-19 not long after the incident occurred.

On July 16 the trio, as directed by their manager at On Time Removals, attended a COVID-19 facility for testing before setting off from West Hoxton, according to the facts of the case.

They were scheduled to pick up furniture from Figtree in Wollongong and deliver it to Molong, and stopped in South Bowenfels and Orange along the way.

About 9.30am their manager was contacted by a NSW health officer that Roni Shawka was unable to comprehend the health advice after testing positive to COVID-19.

Their employer passed on this message, however, "did not direct him or the other men to stop the delivery but to wait for further directions".

Two hours later Shawka was told to self-isolate in the truck's cabin, while the others were soon contacted they had also tested positive.

"Unfortunately the three men proceeded to Molong and unloaded the truck," Mr Day said.

The area contained a number of vulnerable persons "by way of health, age, or First Nations people," the magistrate said.

At the time there were no known cases of COVID-19 in the area, and immunisation rates were low.

"The risk was extreme," he said, citing Dubbo and Wilcannia as worrying examples where the virus had run rampant among vulnerable populations.

The men's lawyer Greg Goold submitted it was a case of "young men trying to do their best," and "do their job," but subsequent instructions got "lost in translation".

The court was told the public health order stipulated the men needed a negative result before driving out of their local government area.

"It was clear they needed negative results before coming into the region," the prosecutor said.

But as this was not the charge brought against them, it was dismissed.

At the time Greater Sydney was under strict lockdown and public health orders stipulated all positive cases must isolate immediately.

Days after police escorted the men back home, the Shawka brothers' mother who was in her 50s died after contracting the virus.

The twins were forced to sit in a ute outside her Green Valley property while police conducted investigations inside the house.

The men were all assessed as having excellent prospects of rehabilitation and unlikely to re-offend again.

All three were also ordered collectively to pay $2000 to NSW police in decontamination cleaning fees for the vehicle used in arresting them.

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