Thousands of worshipers have gathered for the Hillsong conference in Sydney just one day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a ban on events with more than 500 people.
Mr Morrison announced on Friday the government would ban ‘non essential’ public gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday amid increased concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
But the decision has sparked controversy within the community, with some people accusing the evangelical Christian PM of delaying the ban until after the weekend to ensure the Hillsong Colour Conference would go ahead.
There was also speculation the die-hard Cronulla Sharks fan put off the event restrictions to watch his NRL team take on the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday evening.
Large groups of people attend Hillsong Church Colour Conference in Sydney’s north-west on Saturday
The worshipers flocked to the Hillsong Convention Centre in Baulkham Hills, Sydney’s north-west, on Saturday
Worshippers wore face masks and carried umbrellas as they braced rainy and cool conditions in Sydney on Saturday
Saturday’s conference comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would ban events with more than 500 people from Monday
The international Women’s Hillsong meet went ahead at the Hillsong Convention Centre in Baulkham Hills, in Sydney’s north-west, on Saturday. The venue has a capacity of 3,300.
Worshipers wore face masks and carried umbrellas as they braced rainy and cool conditions to attend the conference.
In an update on Friday, Senior Pastor Brian Houston said it had been a remarkable Colour Conference so far ‘and we are believing for a great weekend ahead’.
‘All church services across Australia will continue as normal this weekend,’ he said.
‘I am sure you are aware of the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding the Coronavirus.
‘After this weekend, we will continue to gather in groups under 500 and/or online.
‘My prayer is that our whole church will be committed to still gathering even if that means online which is a good and viable option.
‘Let’s remain in faith, compliant with those in authority and let’s believe that this pandemic will pass quickly.’
Two people wear face masks at the Hillsong conference in Sydney on Saturday. The event comes after the government banned public gatherings with more than 500 people from Monday
Worshippers carry umbrellas with the Hillsong logo as they battle rain on Saturday. Some hide from the wet conditions with ponchos
The Morrison family have regularly been seen at Hillsong events and attended the opening of the Hillsong annual conference in July last year.
Mr Morrison’s motives were questioned by Twitter users.
‘A journalist needs to come straight out and ask Morrison if his reluctance to stop large gatherings is related to the big Hillsong Church gathering with people from all over the world attending. Why only stop gatherings larger than 500 people Chief Medical Officer?’ one person tweeted.
‘Massive Hillsong conference over two weeks finishing this weekend in Sydney. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world tightly packed in. Millions of tax free dollars for our PM’s best friend and mentor. No wonder there is no shut down of mass gatherings yet,’ wrote another.
The international Women’s Hillsong meet went ahead at the Hillsong Convention Centre in Baulkham Hills, Sydney’s north-west, on Saturday. The venue has a capacity of 3,300
Pictured: Attendees at a Hillsong event in Sydney’s north-west on Saturday
‘BUT #slowmo can’t agree to shut down large crowd events just yet. The Hillsong conference still has one day to go. Priorities here. Look after the Happy Clappers first. Cant spoil their party even if they infect each other,’ tweeted a third.
‘Morrison should emulate Canada and do everything to ‘flatten the curve’. Cancel the Hillsong conference in interest of social distancing. It’s obscene to allow this potential source of infection transmission to go ahead. He’ll be culpable for any spread,’ another wrote.
City of Sydney Councillor Kerryn Phelps and doctor tweeted: ‘I have seen no logical explanation for delaying the advice on mass gatherings until after the weekend. At this stage of a pandemic, every hour counts.’
Mr Morrison on Friday evening confirmed he would not attend the Sharks game on Saturday evening after earlier insisting he would go.
Scott Morrison said he would attend the Cronulla Sharks game against the Rabbitohs on Saturday before changing his mind. Mr Morrison is pictured at the NRL game between Cronulla and Manly in May, 2019
Pictured: Mr Morrison attends an Easter Sunday service at Horizon Church in Sydney
‘It might be the last game (I get) to go to for a long time,’ he said on Friday.
A spokesman from Mr Morrison’s office defended the decision to introduce the ban on Monday as it was ‘not actually necessary yet, but will be going forward’.
‘It’s very precautionary,’ the spokesman said, adding the decision was based on the advice of all the chief medical officers to allow the federal government time to formulate protocols and guidelines.
The decision to introduce the ban from Monday was agreed upon by the prime minister, as well as state and territory leaders based on advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
Many have speculated Scott Morrison’s ban on mass gatherings will start from Monday because of the Hillsong conference
‘There’s no immediacy about this, but we need to get ahead of the curve and so the recommendation was Monday and the premiers and the prime minister agreed with that,’ Mr Murphy said.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 227
New South Wales: 114
South Australia: 19
Western Australia: 17
Northern Territory: 1
Australian Capital Territory: 1
TOTAL CASES: 227
‘It wouldn’t have mattered if they’d made a decision one or two days either side. It was felt that that was a reasonable time to progress.’
On Friday, Mr Morrison said the government wants people to go about their ‘normal everyday business’.
The ban doesn’t include schools, university lectures or public transport. The move will be critical to reducing the virus’s spread, to prevent overloading hospital intensive care units.
The government is also urging all Australians to reconsider the need to travel.
‘Only essential travel should be considered if you’re going overseas from this point onwards,’ Mr Morrison said.
The nation’s chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy, added: ‘We’re not suggesting people should interrupt their normal daily work’.
There are more than 200 confirmed cases of cornavirus in Australia and three people have died.
There are more than 200 confirmed cases of cornavirus in Australia and three people have died