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Two paramedics were preparing a meal at a KFC Australian restaurant in suburban Melbourne, Victoria early Friday morning when they noticed something suspicious.
A couple of customers had ordered about 20 take-away meals at 1:30 a.m.
The sizable order raised eyebrows as large parts of Victoria are currently on lockdown after a sudden dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in recent days. The second state lockdown will last six weeks, with large gatherings strictly prohibited and people being let out of their homes for essential reasons.
The ambulance workers, or “ambos” as the Australians call them, grew suspicious and spoke to the KFC staff.
They then drew the police’s attention to the customer’s license plate, and officers followed the vehicle to an address in the suburb of Dandenong.
In one house, they found two people sleeping in a front room – but 16 others who were having a birthday party were hiding in the back.
The take-away chicken had been ordered to feed the hungry guests.
“This is absolutely ridiculous, that kind of behavior,” Shane Patton, chief commissioner of the Victoria Police, told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Fines were imposed on all 16 party guests – a total of A $ 26,000 or nearly $ 18,000.
“It’s a very expensive night,” said Patton.
“This is a damn good birthday party,” he added, “and you will remember it for a long time.”
Australia, like New Zealand, had seen a relatively low number of coronavirus cases during the pandemic, but in the past week, infections have suddenly spiked, mostly in Melbourne, the country’s second largest city.
Residents are now being urged by the Head of State, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews, to wear masks in public as Victoria saw the largest daily surge in coronavirus cases on Friday. 288 COVID-19 infections were diagnosed within 24 hours.
Commissioner Patton said the birthday party goers were not the only ones fined overnight.
Four sex workers were fined in a brothel that was still receiving customers, as was a couple who tried twice to reach their vacation home by car, against orders to stay at their primary residence.
“This kind of behavior, this kind of obvious, obvious, deliberate disregard of the chief health officer’s guidelines is what we’re going to enforce,” Patton said.