opinion

3 Sydney removalists were accused of spreading COVID to regional NSW. There's more to the story.

Late last week, four removalists ventured out of the current COVID epicentre - Sydney's southwest - for work. 

On Thursday evening they drove 83km to Wollongong and back. Upon their return, they were tested for COVID-19, which is required of them as essential workers based out of West Hoxton.

On Friday morning, they got up at 4am and headed 273km west to Molong, stopping on the way in South Bowenfels and Orange.

At 9:36am one of the men, Roni Shawka, received a call from NSW Health while the group was already in Orange.

Watch: More new rules came into force this week. Post continues after video.


Video via Today Show.

As an Iraqi immigrant, English is not the 27-year-old's first language. When he received the message, he passed on the number of his employer who was told that Roni needed to isolate in the cabin of the removal truck immediately as he had tested positive to COVID-19. But it is alleged the men continued into Molong – 30 minutes away – to finish the delivery. 

During this time, Ramsin Shawka, Roni's twin and their colleague Maryo Shanki, were also confirmed as being COVID positive. The fourth member of their party tested negative. 

Both the Shawka twins and Shanki were charged with failing to comply with the public health orders, and escorted home by NSW Police.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph on Monday morning, Roni said, "Of course I feel very bad, I feel very bad for what I [have] done, but it’s not my fault… I was driving and he call[ed] me from the health [department], he told me to stop working and go home, I was already in Orange.

"I gave them the number of my boss, I told them my language is not very good.

"I [did] not kill someone … I was [doing] my work, I swear to god I didn’t know [I was positive]."

These men have been chastised by the NSW government, and much of the state, for their "thoughtless act."

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“We know that the delta variant is highly transmissible, and it is unfathomable to think that, with all the public information and health warnings, people could so blatantly ignore the health orders," said Police Minister David Elliot. 

But let's give these men the benefit of the doubt for a second. They weren't NRL players gathered for a party. They weren't politicians with entire teams working under them conveniently 'forgetting' about the rules.

These were essential workers, in the middle of performing a job deemed 'a reasonable excuse to leave home', even for residents of the Greater Sydney region who are currently under stay at home orders.

It's true that they might've feigned ignorance in order to complete a job they were already 236km into completing. Perhaps they were worried their paycheck would disappear during a time where people in unsecure work have the least financial protection. Perhaps they did just misunderstand the instructions from their boss and NSW Health thanks to a language barrier. 

Minister Elliot seems to think that every person in NSW has the privilege to sit down and watch the 11am press conference every day. Or scour the NSW government website for the constantly changing rules. 

There is every chance that these men didn't 'blatantly' ignore the health rules. They were just confused by them, like most of us are. 

The men's boss told the Daily Telegraph, "the premier said do the test and go back to your daily life if you have no symptoms. I told them to get that test, they would not have done it otherwise.

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"We just followed the instruction, we have not done anything wrong by the public … [but] whatever a court decides we will accept."

Our outrage at these removalists, before we ever knew the full story, is symptomatic of a growing fury in Australia right now.

12 million of us are in lockdown thanks in part to a bungled vaccine rollout that's left our country vulnerable to the highly contagious delta variant. 

We're watching celebrities, like Katie Hopkins and Caitlin Jenner, be allowed to fly in while those with Australian passports are kept out. 

Victorians are angry that the virus made its way into their state from Sydney thanks to lax rules. That was due to removalists too - a group of men who actively refused to cooperate with police. It's easy to lump those removalists in with this new group.

Sydneysiders are angry that Gladys didn't lock us down harder when she could have, and potentially avoided our current reality of a minimum of five weeks inside our homes, with the potential for more. 

And it goes on and on and on. 

But amid all the mess let's remember who we're angry at. 

We're angry at our leaders, a bungled rollout and confusing public health orders. Not the innocent people who contract COVID-19 as a result of an incompetent system. 

Feature image: Facebook/GoogleMaps/Mamamia.