A Melbourne restaurant is seeing its name dragged through the dirt as authorities investigate accusations it hosted an illegal feast for the ringleaders of Saturday’s anti-lockdown protest.
A single image uploaded onto social media on Saturday allegedly shows protest leaders Monica Smit and Morgan Jonas, toasting glasses of wine at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon. However the restaurant has strongly denied hosting the group at that time.
As part of a seven-day lockdown, Victorians are only allowed to leave their home for a limited number of reasons, restaurants have been forced to close and public gatherings are banned.
The image was deleted yesterday, but furious customers have been lashing the restaurant with one-star reviews and threats of a boycott.
Victoria Police said officers were called to the restaurant over reports of “a group not wearing masks” at about 4.30pm on Saturday. When they arrived, however, the restaurant was reportedly empty.
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A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman told the Herald Sun the incident will be investigated by the Government’s coronavirus enforcement team.
However, the restaurant has vehemently denied the accusations.
“We were closed. We went there to clean but we were closed. I don’t know what people are talking about,” the restaurant owner told the Herald Sun.
Since the image of the gathering was posted on the encrypted communication app Telegram at 3.16pm on Saturday, it has been widely shared on social media sites like Facebook.
It shows at least 15 people holding wine glasses inside the restaurant with the caption: “Moda restaurant in Seddon. Getting on with business. Great hanging out with fellow freedom fighters.”
They later added: “Loved having lunch with everyone afterward in Seddon. We were just finishing lunch when the business got a call the police were on the way. People who dob on business is such a low act in my mind. Let’s all continue to support these types of businesses.”
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Furious locals have been dumping one-star reviews on the restaurant, saying they can no longer support it.
“I can no longer support a local restaurant that blatantly breaks Covid laws. This puts our community at risk especially with Covid active in our community! Shame!” one wrote.
“For some reason you think you’re above the rules that everyone else has to follow? When lockdown is over … I’ll be supporting the businesses that were sensible,” said another.
“As a local who has previously been to your restaurant, I will no longer be showing any support,” added a third. “Disgraceful actions flouting health regulations during lockdown whilst a nearby business had to be deep cleaned due to Tier 1 exposure.”
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Charges laid included affray and assaulting police, which carries a six-month mandatory minimum jail term in Victoria.
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Protesters charged with assaulting police if found guilty could go to prison for up to five years, the maximum jail term for that offence.
Two police officers and a protester were injured during scuffles that allegedly broke out as police cracked down on the protest march, which was aimed at voicing displeasure with Victoria’s lockdown imposed on Thursday and slated to last for seven days.
The protesters marched in defiance of the lockdown, which was imposed after an outbreak of a new variant of coronavirus spread widely in Melbourne and threatened public health.