A Hillsong spokesperson confirmed that an “annual high school youth camp” is underway at Glenrock State Conservation Park in Newcastle.
Witnesses said the church camp was like a music festival, with tents set up with live music and DJs playing with “lots of people”.
On Thursday evening, NSW Health said it had “asked Hillsong to immediately stop singing and dancing at an event in the Newcastle area”, claiming it was a breach of public health order.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the Hillsong event was “clearly contrary to the spirit and intent of the Order, which is in place to help keep the community safe”.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said singing and dancing at big events posed a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Local resident Danyon Clinton said he saw a large number of people under a tent, saying it looked like a music festival.
“It looks like any type of event you would have in a public place or at a music festival,” he said.
Hillsong denied any claims that the camp was a music festival.
“These events are our annual high school youth camps and are nothing like a music festival,” a Hillsong spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our camps primarily involve outdoor recreational activities, including sports and games.
“We are following strict COVID procedures and adhering to government guidelines.
“Outdoor Christian services are held during camp, but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service.
“It’s a bit of a double standard that this can happen and music festivals can’t happen,” Clinton said.
Local Ben Burdekin also said it felt like a “double standard” and the community was angry at the event.
“There’s live music coming from under the tent, and lots of people below. It feels like a big festival,” he said.
“Seems like there’s some protection around organizations that can hold these things when so many other events have been canceled.”
Hospitality venues have taken a stand against the event, with the Chippendale pub, the Lord Gladstone, rebranding The Gladsong Hotel and hosting a one-day “Sunday service” event on January 23.
Brisbane rock band DZ Deathrays also hit out at the event, saying it was a “slap in the face to the arts industry”.
Earlier, NSW Health addressed the event in a statement, saying that “people attending church services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.
“COVID-19 secure registration is also required at hospitality venues, nightclubs, places of worship, funerals, memorial services or subsequent gatherings.
“NSW Health encourages people to avoid large gatherings and minimize high-risk activities where possible, including singing.”
He then released the statement saying that Hillsong was asked to immediately stop singing and dancing at the event.
Under NSW public health orders, singing and dancing is banned at music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major leisure facilities to curb the spread of Omicron .
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“These environments are considered high risk due to increased movement and mixing within and between these locations, the influence of alcohol consumption and the removal of masks in these environments to consume food and drinks,” NSW Health said.