Hillsong Claims Event Is Nothing Like A Music Festival After NSW Health Ordered Singing To Stop
Hillsong have doubled down after furious criticism from the music industry over the recent event.
New South Wales Health and NSW Police have backflipped on their original stance on Hillsong’s Summer Camp after footage of the event went viral on Thursday.
The news comes as Hillsong has rejected comparisons to music festivals, asserting that “these events are our annual high school-aged youth camps, and are not similar to a music festival in any way.”
Despite countless music festivals across the state being forced to cancel amid new restrictions prohibiting outdoor singing and dancing, Hillsong has been able to press on with its Wildlife Summer Camp outside of Newcastle this week. And, much to the frustration of the state’s music industry, the event looks and sounds like a music festival.
Initially, the event received an exemption, which NSW Health defended because “people attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.”
But — as the now-viral footage posted by Hillsong’s youth division shows — masks were virtually non-existent and attendees were singing, dancing and otherwise flouting social distancing rules.
In a statement provided to Junkee on Thursday night, NSW Health confirmed it has requested Hillsong to cease singing and dancing immediately. “NSW Health has requested Hillsong immediately stop singing and dancing at an event being held in the Newcastle area,” a statement from NSW Health reads. “Singing and dancing at a major recreation facility is in breach of the Public Health Order.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also noted that the Public Health Order states that singing and dancing is prohibited at music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment venues and major recreation facilities.
“While the Order does not apply to religious services, it does apply to major recreation facilities and this event is clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the Order, which is in place to help keep the community safe,” Mr Hazzard said in a statement provided to Junkee.
When approached by Junkee prior to the publication of yesterday’s story on the event, NSW Police stated that the matter would be best discussed with NSW Health and did not comment on whether or not it was investigating the evidence of COVID safety breaches.
Following the publication of yesterday’s story — and huge backlash on social media — NSW Police have since confirmed that it will liaise with Hillsong to ensure future compliance.
“NSW Police will liaise with organisers of an event, which is being held in the Newcastle area, to ensure future compliance with the Public Health Orders after NSW Health deemed the location to be a major recreational facility,” the commander of Operation Coronavirus told Junkee in a statement.
NSW Police did not mention any fines being issued to attendees or event organisers. Junkee has sought clarification on this.
Hillsong Reject Claims It Was A Festival
In a lengthy statement provided to Junkee, Hillsong vehemently rejected claims that the Wildlife Summer Camp is akin to a music festival.
“These events are our annual high school-aged youth camps, and are not similar to a music festival in any way,” Hillsong said in a statement provided to Junkee.
“Our camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games. We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines. Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service (a video circulating on social media today reflects a few minutes of this part of the program).
“COVID safety information was provided to participant parents prior to camp, and all students and workers undertook rapid antigen testing before attending the camp. Face masks are compulsory during travel on buses to and from camp, all workers serving food are wearing masks, and a deep clean of the facilities was undertaken between the two camps. Sanitation stations are positioned around the site while paramedics and testing capabilities are on site 24 hours per day. Isolation protocols have been developed for positive cases or close contacts at camp, and where required all attendee details are registered for contact tracing.”
Junkee has repeatedly contacted Hillsong for clarification on how the organisation was able to obtain enough rapid antigen tests to provide two tests per person but is yet to receive a response.
The event has not been ordered to cease operations and will continue to run until Saturday at Glenrock Scout Camp in Newcastle.