Coronavirus: Australian mayor seen drinking beer fined for rule breach

The mayor said he believed he was acting “within the bounds of the law” when speaking to business ownersImage source, Warrnambool City Council
Image caption,
The mayor said he believed he was acting "within the bounds of the law"

A mayor in the Australian state of Victoria has been fined for breaching coronavirus restrictions after he was pictured drinking a beer on the street.

Warrnambool Mayor Tony Herbert was caught on camera standing outside a hotel with three other people.

The picture, taken by a passerby on 7 April, shows him swigging from a bottle of beer next to his mayoral car.

Hours before the photo was taken the mayor urged residents to stay at home in a video shared by the city council.

On Thursday, Victoria Police fined Mr Herbert A$1,652 ($1,043; £837) for failing to comply with social-distancing rules designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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The mayor has apologised for his actions, admitting he "made mistakes". He said he was speaking to business owners as part of his mayoral duties, which he believed was "within the bounds of the law".

"However, I realise that I had inadvertently breached the new laws to keep the community safe," he said. "I am genuinely sorry for my actions."

Police said three other people were fined alongside Mr Herbert for breaching rules issued by medical authorities.

All four were given a warning for drinking alcohol in an area where it is not permitted, police said.

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Hours before the incident, Mr Herbert recorded a video message in which he implored residents in the city to "do more" to observe social-distancing protocols.

"Let’s keep doing the things we have been asked to do by the government," he said in the video, shared on the council’s Facebook.

Mr Herbert had defended his actions in a statement earlier this week, saying he had stopped outside the hotel for a "chance, unplanned and emotional encounter with one business owner".

He said another business owner joined them later and, as they spoke, he was handed a beer. "It is important for any mayor, where reasonable and safe to do so, to find out first-hand about the state of their city," the mayor said.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
A police officers speaks to a man in Melbourne where restrictions are in place

As of Thursday, there have been 6,468 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, and 63 deaths related to the disease. New cases have been decreasing steadily since the start of April, with just 21 detected in the past 24 hours.

To stem the spread of the virus, Australia has closed its borders and forced a lockdown of non-essential businesses.

People are discouraged to leave their homes, but schools, public transport, shops and outdoor areas remain open.

Several Australian states have enacted strict movement laws, and in recent weeks, police have fined hundreds of people found outside their homes for loitering, hanging in groups, or doing non-essential activities.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a three-point plan he said Australia needs to implement before social-distancing rules can be eased.

He said the country had begun to take "the road out" of the crisis, but stressed that most restrictions on life would remain in place for the next four weeks at least. "We can't allow our patience to wear off," he said.

Media caption,
Last month, police closed Sydney's Bondi Beach