A Hillsong spokesperson confirmed an “annual high school aged youth camp” is underway at Glenrock State Conservation Park in Newcastle.
Witnesses said the church’s camp resembles a music festival, with tents set up with live music and DJs playing along with “a lot of people”.
On Thursday night, NSW Health said it had “requested Hillsong immediately stop singing and dancing at an event being held in the Newcastle area”, saying it was a breach of the Public Health Order.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the Hillsong event was “clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the Order, which is in place to help keep the community safe”.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said singing and dancing at large events posed a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Danyon Clinton, a resident of the area, claimed to have seen a large number of people under a tent, saying it looked like a music festival.
“It looks like any sort of event you’d have in a public place or a music festival sort of thing,” he said.
Hillsong has denied any claims that the camp was a music festival.
“These events are our annual high school aged youth camps, and are not similar to a music festival in any way,” a Hillsong spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games.
“We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines.
“Outdoor Christian services are held during the camp but these are only a small part of the program, and any singing is only a small part of each service.
“It’s a bit of a double standard that this can happen and music festivals can’t go ahead,” Mr Clinton said.
Local Ben Burdekin also said it feels like a “double standard” and the community is angered by the event.
“There’s live music coming from beneath the tent, and lots of people underneath it. It just looks like one big festival,” he said.
“It feels like there is some protection around organisations that get to hold these things while so many other events have been cancelled.”
Hospitality venues have taken a stand against the event, with Chippendale pub the Lord Gladstone rebranding as The Gladsong Hotel and hosting a one-day “Sunday service” event on January 23.
Brisbane rock group DZ Deathrays also hit out at the event, saying it’s a “slap in the face to the arts industry”.
Earlier, NSW Health had addressed the event in a statement, saying “people attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.
“COVID-19 Safe Check-in is also required at hospitality venues, nightclubs, places of worship, funerals, memorial services, or gatherings afterwards.
“NSW Health encourages people to avoid large gatherings and minimise high-risk activities where possible, including singing.”
It later released the statement saying Hillsong had been asked to immediately stop singing and dancing at the event.
Under NSW public health orders, singing and dancing at music festivals, hospitality venues, nightclubs, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities is prohibited to curb the spread of Omicron.
“These settings are deemed as high risk due to increased movement and mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink,” NSW Health said.