Mayor Fined for Breaking Coronavirus Restrictions, Drinking Beer on Street

An Australian mayor has been fined after being spotted drinking beer on the street with three other people only hours after he had recorded a video encouraging residents to strictly follow social distancing measures.

Police fined Warrambool, Victoria Mayor Tony Herbert A$1,652 (approximately $1,050 USD) on Thursday for ignoring restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. He was investigated by police after being photographed drinking with a group of people gathered outside a bar on April 7. Herbert insisted that he had been doing his job by meeting with local business owners and the photograph was being interpreted out of context.

"I had a chance, unplanned and emotional encounter with one business owner," said Herbert in a statement released earlier in the week, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). "While I discussed the state of his business, a second business owner approached and joined the conversation. As we spoke we stood metres apart from each other with the exception of a brief moment when one of the business owners—who practices strict hygiene controls as part of his business—passed me a beer."

"After [the] discussion we finished with a sense of optimism for the future," he added.

Hands holding beer
Despite strongly urging residents to maintain restrictions intended to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Australian mayor was spotted only hours later drinking beer with a group of people gathered outside a bar. Prostock-Studio/Getty

Police also cited Herbert for being parked on the street in the wrong direction, facing oncoming traffic, as well as drinking in an area where it is not permitted. The other three people the mayor was spotted with were also handed notices.

Only hours earlier, a video was posted to social media featuring Herbert encouraging residents to continue following a stay-at-home directive and other preventative measures that he said had been helping to keep the virus contained. As of Wednesday, the city of just over 35,000 had seen five confirmed cases.

"Let's all keep doing all the things we are asked to do by the government," Herbert said in the video.

When news of his actions broke, some on social media accused the mayor of hypocrisy and called for him to resign. Others offered messages of support, insisting the incident was being overblown.

Herbert issued an apology after receiving the fine, saying the he believed his actions were "part of my mayoral role" but the support he had received from fellow politicians and members the community had inspired him to "do a better job" in the future.

"I made mistakes on the night of April 7 and I wish to apologise for them," Herbert said in a statement on Thursday. "I realise that I had inadvertently breached the new laws to keep the community safe. I am genuinely sorry for my actions."

Newsweek reached out to Herbert for additional comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.