Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston said the Australian health service in the state of New South Wales was being “over cautious” after it issued a health alert for people who visited the megachurch's car park at a time when the campus was closed.
“The NSW (New South Wales) govt issued a health alert for people who visited our Hills campus between 8-8.45pm on 29 December. At that time the church was completely shut and the Christmas lights were switched off after Christmas night. The NSW govt had been made aware of that,” Houston, the church’s founder, wrote on Twitter.
He added that he thought the health service was “just being over cautious in this instance.”
A journalist, Eliza Barr, posted NSW’s public health alert issued on Saturday, listing Hillsong as one of the venues visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“There are more than 350 COVID-19 testing locations across NSW, many of which are open seven days a week… NSW urges anyone in NSW with even the mildest symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat or runny nose to come forward immediately for testing, then isolate until they receive a negative result,” it says.
In another tweet, Barr raised concerns that people visiting Hillsong's Christmas lights display on its campus could lead to more COVID-19 infections. “For the uninitiated, this is the Hillsong Hills campus Christmas light display which, given the circumstances, should not have existed if you ask me because everyone wants to post and it was always going to draw a crowd,” Barr wrote.
Pastor Houston responded, “Yes it was beautiful and TURNED OFF after Christmas. The 25th.” He added, “It may be unimportant to you but this was a completely empty car park on the 29th with NO Christmas lights. Come on Daily Telegraph. You are better than this.”
Barr sought to clarify, “I wasn’t referring to the 29th - hours ago I acknowledged what you said about the lights being off and no events running that day on the basis it was late on a Tuesday after Christmas. I’m simply acknowledging it drew a crowd prior to that because it’s a picturesque display.”
In a separate post on Twitter Saturday, Houston emphasized: “There was absolutely no one there. Apparently this was someone who randomly drove into the car park. An empty car park,” according to Daily Mail.
NSW health service later updated its website to clarify that the car park is the venue of concern and not the church.
“As the reference to ‘campus’ was intended to indicate, the venue of concern in this instance is an area of the church precincts, specifically the car park, and not the church itself. The information has been updated on the website to make this clearer,” a NSW Health spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia.
NSW on Saturday recorded seven new coronavirus cases after 32,000 tests across the Greater Sydney area, where the megachurch is located, 9News reported, adding that four of the seven were from one family and all but one were linked to known cases.