Australian authorities have fined Christ Embassy church in Sydney for flouting the city’s Covid-19 lockdown by holding a service for 60 people in a pandemic hotspot.
Founder of the church Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, with headquarters in Lagos, has been spreading conspiracy theories about COVID-19. His church in the United Kingdom was in April fined for broadcasting misleading and potentially harmful statements about the pandemic and vaccines.
The police acted on a tip off by residents on Sunday. The church was fined 5,000 Australian dollars ($3,600) while 30 parishioners were fined 1,000 Australian dollars.
Australian media quoted a Facebook-streamed sermon on Sunday from the church in the western Sydney region’s Blacktown as saying: “In the name of Jesus we refuse every lockdown in our cities. We declare the lockdowns are over in the name of Jesus.”
The Sydney church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Addressing a news conference, premier of New South Wales state Gladys Berejiklian said, “It is always disheartening and disappointing when you see people blatantly take it upon themselves to contradict what we know works, to contradict what we know is keeping people out of hospital.
“That is the key: to keep people out of hospital, to make sure that we keep people as safe and as healthy as possible. And we know the vaccine is having such a huge impact on that.”
The state’s deputy police commissioner Gary Worboys said the church service was a “disappointing” event that would “anger, no doubt, a lot of people”.
The Sydney church had since removed from Facebook videos from the church service.
The whole of Sydney is currently under stay-at-home orders, as Australia’s largest city struggles to contain a Delta variant outbreak that now tops 800 new cases a day.
Residents are only allowed to leave home to shop for essential items, exercise, in health emergencies or for a handful of other reasons.