COVID border cheat gets community service
A magistrate has slammed the actions of a woman who lied about being in a COVID-19 hotspot when she returned to Queensland unknowingly infected with the virus, saying her conduct was "selfish", "self-indulgent" and "extremely careless".
Olivia Muranga, 20, lied on her border declaration pass when returning from coronavirus-riddled Melbourne last year, claiming she had not been in a COVID hotspot.
While unknowingly infected with the virus, Muranga attended her work as a cleaner at a school and visited restaurants which Police Prosecutor Lisa Pye said had a "knock on" effect, causing the school and businesses to be closed for cleaning.
Magistrate Sue Ganasan said while Muranga's actions had been "selfish", she had also subsequently been the victim of a "concerted and distasteful" campaign which "invited public vitriol and incited racial vilification".
Muranga today pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to a charge of failing to comply with a COVID health direction after charges of fraud and providing false or misleading documents were dropped.
The court heard earlier reports that Muranga had not assisted police and contact tracers were incorrect and Sgt Pye said the young woman had "co-operated with police to facilitate the investigation into the Logan cluster".
"It's conceded that it's not possible to say that the entire expense borne by the community as a consequence of investigating the Logan cluster can be attributable to this defendant alone," Sgt Pye said.
"I ask your honour to take judicial notice that investigating a public health incident such as this bears considerable cost and impact to the lives of individuals in our community in varied but significant ways."
The prosecutor said there was a 47 per cent increase in COVID testing overnight as a result of the investigation, with 8500 tests conducted in 24 hours at a cost of more than $333,000.
"In my submission a suitable way for the defendant to make amends to the community is by being ordered to participate in community service," she said.
"An order of 240 hours in my submission would assist the rehabilitation of the defendant and allow amends to be made to our community."
However defence lawyer Dominic Brunello said it was an agreed fact between the defence and prosecution that "at the time she committed the offence the nature and extent of the testing that followed associated with the Logan cluster was not reasonably foreseeable".
"The prosecution have conceded a reasonable person wouldn't have foreseen it at the time she did the act the subject of the charge," he said.
Mr Brunello said Muranga had been "candid", "fulsome" and "co-operative" with authorities and had suffered great harm to her mental health, having since been diagnosed with depression and anxiety in response to the incident and the consequent scrutiny.
He said Muranga had been studying paramedicine and working part time as a cleaner at the time she committed the offences but she had since been sacked from her job and dropped out of school due to the emotional trauma suffered in the wake of the crime.
"Ms Muranga's youth is a highly significant matter, it is a significant explanation for the error of judgment and lack of consequential thinking and it is a factor that makes her deserving of leniency and makes it proper that this court place an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than deterrence and punishment," he said.
"(The prosecutor) says denunciation is an important part of this exercise, in my submission Ms Muranga could not have been more severely denounced than she has been to date by the mass and social media and has been amply specifically deterred."
Mr Brunello said his submissions were not designed to "diminish her acceptance of her wrongdoing, her regret and her remorse."
"She did the wrong thing, she was a young woman who thought momentarily perhaps a bit selfishly and immaturely that the rules didn't apply to her," he said.
"However the treatment she has received is grossly disproportionate to her actual culpability and she has been scapegoated."
Magistrate Ganasan took into account the significant extracurial punishment Muranga had faced by way of public and media attention and scrutiny, the loss of her job and the impacts to her mental health.
She sentenced her to 40 hours of community service and did not record a conviction.
Muranga's co-offenders Diana Lasu and Haja Timbo were last month sentenced to 80 hours of community service each. No conviction was recorded against Timbo.
Originally published as Infected border cheat gets 40hrs community service