New England Police are battling residents' stay-at-home fatigue and complacency in Armidale, and across the region, as they move from educating to fining offenders.
Last weekend alone, 45 Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) were issued by New England Police, and since anti-lockdown protests were held across the Northern Tablelands on August 31, a total of 198 fines have been given to offenders, and 9 charges have been laid.
"Considering the rules at the moment, there are still a lot of people out and about," Matt Harmer, the Acting Inspector at Armidale Police station, said.
The PINs ranged from a $500 ticket for failing to wear a mask in public to $1000 for leaving home without a valid reason. Failing to comply with the outdoor public gatherings direction can incur a fine of $3000; however, none of these has been issued in the area to date.
Although incredibly, police have had to educate some people that social gatherings are not within lockdown rules.
"Our vulnerable communities are making up the larger portion of infringements due to their failure to wear facemasks or leaving home without a valid reason," A/Insp Harmer said.
"If the community is not sure about the public health orders, we encourage them to seek assistance from NSW Health or local police. Police are doing their best to educate when interacting with the community."
In Moree, a staggering 92 PINs have been issued in the last week, and in Inverell, 46 fines have been given, followed by 19 in Armidale, 17 in Glen Innes, 8 in Uralla, 5 in Tenterfield, two each in Boggabilla and Delungra and one each in Boomi and Gravesend.
Some offenders who have already received multiple PINs are now facing court on a charge of breaching a public health order and will likely walk away with a criminal record.
"Some people are up to their sixth ticket because they just don't want to abide by the rules, and we are now at the point where those people are just going to be charged," A/Insp Harmer said.
In total, nine people have been charged across the tablelands since August 31: three in Moree, two in both Inverell and Bingara, and one each in Tenterfield and Armidale.
"The local area is really on a knife's edge considering the positive sewerage testing results," A/Insp Harmer said.
"The effects of the virus are heavily impacting the west, and local emergency management stakeholders are doing their best to assist the community.
"We've tried to run an education campaign, but unfortunately, if you look at what is happening out west, we can't afford to go down that road."
New England Police are asking community members to stay at home, A/Insp Harmer said, unless there is a valid reason to leave as per the public health orders.
"We still have lots of people turning up at shopping centres in family groups, and that is a straight out breach," A/Insp Harmer said.
"We remind the community only one member of the household is to go shopping per day. Police will be strongly policing this over the coming weekend."
According to A/Insp Harmer, police are also detecting parties and gatherings in households, which is clearly in breach of the public health order.
"We know there was one in Armidale over the weekend," he said.
The current defiant behaviour is a combination of residents being fed up and being complacent police think. And the highway patrol have been leading the charge, finding people who aren't living in the same household 'just cruising around' in the same car.
"It is because we don't have active cases in New England, " A/Insp said.
"Although we do have traces of Covid-19 in Moree and Glen Innes, which could be explained by people passing through, but we just don't know.
"Being a rural community, a lot of people are on septic systems on properties out of town, and that won't show up in sewage testing, so people must get tested if they have any symptoms at all."
New England Police are encouraging the community to get vaccinated and get tested if they are suffering any symptoms.
"The best way to protect ourselves from the virus and help reduce the spread is through vaccination," A/Inspecting Harmer said.
"And for now we are trying to get people to stay at home, not have parties, wear masks when out and not go shopping in groups."
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