NSW removalists probe headed to Vic police

Residents of Melbourne's Ariele Apartments caught COVID-19 from NSW removalists.
Residents of Melbourne's Ariele Apartments caught COVID-19 from NSW removalists.

A health department probe into a crew of NSW removalists who triggered Victoria's Delta coronavirus outbreak is poised to be handed over to police.

Premier Daniel Andrews has cleared up confusion surrounding which agency is the lead investigator into the allegedly illegal actions of the three-person removalist team.

The removalists weren't wearing masks, in a breach of the conditions of their worker permits, when they made stops at Craigieburn and Maribyrnong on July 8 before travelling to South Australia.

Residents of the Ariele Apartments in Maribyrnong caught COVID-19 from the removalists, two of whom later tested positive, and unknowingly spread it into the community.

The outbreak at the complex can be traced back to almost all 147 local cases in Victoria and sparked the state's fifth lockdown.

Based on a briefing on Friday morning, the premier confirmed the Department of Health's compliance team is close to finalising their investigation and forwarding it on to police.

"If it's not with police, it is literally on the way to them and they will do as they see fit," Mr Andrews told reporters on Friday.

"I expect if you were to ask the chief commissioner the same question on Monday it is probably a different answer."

Earlier, Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police were assisting the health department, including tracking the removalists' movements within the state.

But he was adamant Victoria Police were yet to formally take over the investigation.

Meanwhile, a publican on the Victorian-NSW border has been arrested and fined nearly $22,000 for openly flouting health directions.

Trevor Andrews of the Pastoral Hotel Echuca has been opening to patrons for three days, serving meals and drinks in defiance of lockdown rules.

The publican was warned and later fined twice before local police arrested him.

"We're taking it very seriously because he has just been deliberately and blatantly breaching the CHO (Chief Health Officer) directions," Mr Patton told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

"Common sense has not prevailed."

The police commissioner said he had been bailed with specific conditions, and faced the prospect of jail if he reopened again.

"We would probably be asking for him to be remanded. It's nonsense what he's doing," he said.

Mr Patton said the stunt had ended up costing the community more than $100,000, with another 47 staff and guests inside the hotel also slapped with fines.

The opposition's police spokesman David Southwick questioned why a publican hundreds of kilometres from known outbreaks had been fined while the removalists were yet to face any punishment.

"Victorians expect these rules are enforced fairly and consistently," he said.

It comes as police issued a stern warning to hundreds of people purportedly planning to attend an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne on Saturday.

"There is talk of convoys potentially blocking the Bolte Bridge and a range of others," Mr Patton said.

"We will take every action we can to stop them doing that."

Australian Associated Press