23 August 2021

Lost bushwalkers' COVID fine a 'lesson to the community'

| Kim Treasure
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Views from the Coree Fire Tower

Views from the Coree Fire Tower between Tidbinbilla and Brindabella. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Two bushwalkers who became lost in bushland over the weekend have now been hit with COVID-19 fines for breaching public health directions.

The hikers had to call Triple Zero after losing their way in the Coree area, sparking a full-scale search and rescue mission.

The 28-year-old man and 24-year-old woman called the emergency line at about 4:25 pm on Saturday (21 August).

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While the bushwalkers were able to provide police with their location coordinates, the thickness of the bushland meant Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel had to be deployed to locate them, with assistance from ACT State Emergency Service (SES) personnel.

The hikers were found about four hours later and were guided from the area by the SAR team before leaving the area in their own vehicle.

The ordeal, however, was far from over – both hikers have been fined for breaching COVID-19 public health directions as their hike was for more than the one-hour duration currently permitted for outdoor exercise.

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Officer in Charge ACT Road Policing, Detective Inspector Donna Hofmeier said the incident diverted police away from other important work as Road Policing officers were called to assist the hikers.

“These people went looking for a loophole in the COVID-19 regulations and will receive a fine for breaching the public health directions,” Detective Inspector Hofmeier said.

“The COVID rules in the ACT are clear. They allow for one hour of outdoor exercise a day. These people had planned a 12-kilometre hike, which would obviously take more than an hour to complete.

“They were insufficiently equipped for it, making it almost inevitable things would go wrong. Once they called for help, considerable police and emergency service resources were required to locate them and get them to safety.

“I hope this serves as a lesson, not just to these hikers, but to the whole community at this time.”

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Officer in Charge ACT Road Policing, Detective Inspector Donna Hofmeier needs to be reminded that the police are funded to conduct search and resue operations. Prosecuting two people for simply going for a longer than 1 hour walk in the bush, where they were not at risk of catching or of transmitting anything is excessive and unnecessary. Unfortunately the couple got lost, but it appears the police imposed the fine out of vindictive spite because they were inconvenienced at being taken away from their now preferred duties of enforcing mask manadates, home quarantines and border controls, instead of catching criminals. Public support for the police will be undermined if they abuse their positions of trust and powers of discretion. I do not want our respected ACT police to start acting over zealously like the Victorian and NSW police.

Frank Spencer8:08 pm 27 Aug 21

The muppets got lost. Enough said.

James-T-Kirk9:44 am 24 Aug 21

While I completely agree that these people are idiots and they did the wrong thing, I can’t help but wonder if the automatic heavy handed police response works to convince people in the community that police are not actually helpful when there is a problem.

I suspect that the outcome may be different in a couple of days if the people didn’t make early contact…. It is much easier to locate somebody when they give you their GPS coordinates than when their decomposing body lies lifeless at the bottom of a gorge.

averyandrews3:32 pm 24 Aug 21

I think that the problem with the Coree Clowns is that they caused a lot of possible spreading contact between rescuers and themselves that would have been unnecessary if they had taken their overlong walk in a more sensible way, in a place where it would be harder to get lost. That might even be the real justification for the 1hr rule, since, realistically, nobody is going to catch you if you take a 5hr walk in the Ainslie-Majura reserve, or various other places where it is hard to get lost.

Good point.

I hear the War Memorial / Mount Ainslie walk is still very popular even though most are not making it up and back down within the hour.

But they aren’t getting lost so the authorities don’t care.

Spiral not only the War Memorial. There were 38 cars parked at the Mount Taylor track on Sulwood Drive at 5 pm last Sunday. That together with the couple on foot entering the track at the time I passed would make 40. Even if only up for 1 hour, I was wondering where they all went to not be in close proximity!!! They were not getting fines or even attracting a police presence! The Coree couple were probably safer walking in the bush if only they had not got lost!

Frank Spencer8:07 pm 27 Aug 21

Those on Mt. Taylor didn’t drain police resources. So according to your theory, do people doing the bridge to bridge walk deserve police presence? The Coree couple were fools.

Personally, I think both of these hikers should also be made to pay for the emergency service resources that were used to bail their backsides out. They both made a conscious decision that their wants were more important than the need to minimise the exposure to others.

Do you think walking alone in the bush is a great risk to COVID exposure in the ACT?

Yes, they broke the rules (1hr excercise) but there are far higher exposure risks currently perfectly legal in the ACT so it’s disingenuous to think this is all about limiting exposure risk.

And part of the reason that we have emergency services us for exactly these sorts of situations, do you think the users of these services should pay for them in all situations or just here?

I agree chewy.

I’m all for (in general) putting COVID rule breakers in a pillory and shooting them with nerf guns.

But in reality this couple didn’t put Canberra at risk, obviously getting lost wasn’t part of their plan.

Their planned action was less risky to the Canberra population than the joggers along my local footpath.

Fine them, but I think their offending is less serious than the muppets who I see wandering around shopping centres and walking paths without masks. Sure I know they probably have a “medical exemption” but it is suspicious how many couples I see wandering around who co-incidentally both seem to have a medical condition preventing them from wearing masks.

Frank Spencer8:10 pm 27 Aug 21

Brianna totally agree.

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