Wednesday, 3 Mar 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: Cafe owner prosecuted for not displaying QR codes refuses to appear in court

An Auckland cafe owner being prosecuted for failing to display Covid-19 QR codes has refused to appear in court, seemingly concerned about the threat of the virus during the city’s lockdown.

Dilip Rupa, the first person in New Zealand to face court action for not presenting an official Covid Tracer App code at Rupa’s cafe, was due to stand before a judge today.

“I’m an asthmatic – there is no way I’m going to go into an environment like that,” the businessman told the Herald after missing his hearing.

The Freeman’s Bay cafe was visited by police and WorkSafe and Rupa was issued a directive letter before two $300 infringement notices in September and October, WorkSafe said.

After allegedly continuing to refuse to display a QR poster, Rupa was charged under section 26 of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020.

But Rupa told the Herald the dispute should never have gone to court and his rights have been violated.

In court, WorkSafe prosecutor Ben Finn said he understood Rupa was representing himself in the case but hadn’t seen him at the Auckland District Court precinct this morning.

Just as Judge Tony Fitzgerald was considering issuing an arrest warrant for the tardy businessman, the court’s registrar handed him a email printed on A4 paper.

“Mr Rupa is unable to attend court,” Judge Fitzgerald read aloud. “He is in the vulnerable persons category – asthmatic.”

The email, Judge Fitzgerald said, had arrived at 10.02am, two minutes after Rupa’s scheduled hearing. It was sent from the Ministry of Justice’s contact centre after Rupa had phoned to say he wasn’t coming, the judge explained.

However, both Judge Fitzgerald and Finn were seemingly unimpressed by Rupa’s late attempts to contact the court and explain his situation.

“We’re keen to ensure people are kept safe, but there is a process to be followed,” Finn said.

Judge Fitzgerald decided to maintain Rupa’s bail until a next court hearing on March 3, of which the cafe owner will be notified.

When phoned by the Herald after the hearing, Rupa said: “I’m an angry man because I’ve had my rights violated.

“My main objection to the QR code is no one knows what the coding is … there’s no security and there’s no knowledge of where this QR coding is going.”

Rupa said he also held concerns over privacy and how a QR code could be used.

“I have no trust in the Government and I have no trust in the corrupt court system we have.”

He claimed, including in a series of online videos, he was not required to display a QR code because his cafe uses alternative tracing methods, including a manual sign-in book.

But Rupa told the Herald his cafe has now been forced by authorities to show QR codes.

If convicted, Rupa faces a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a fine up to $4000.

Both of his infringement notices remain unpaid, WorkSafe told the Herald.

Today was also not the first time Rupa has failed to appear in court after being charged in November.

His first appearance was due to be on January 5, however, Rupa did not show.

An arrest warrant was executed by police against him in late January before he was granted bail and directed to return to court today.

During Question Time in the House today, Act Party leader David Seymour asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern if she could assure Kiwis scanning a QR code does not result in the Government tracking a person’s movements without their consent.

“I understand people’s anxiety with the idea of information about where they’ve been being collected in an inappropriate way,” Ardern replied.

“People hold that information themselves, they have to give permission for it to be shared in the event that they are found to have Covid-19.”

Ardern said whether compulsory scanning of QR codes will be implemented was “still a live discussion” for Government.

Cabinet was due to meet at 3pm to decide whether to lift Auckland out of level 3 lockdown.

Ardern is expected to announce the decision at 4.30pm.

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