Covid 19 coronavirus: Victorian mum’s plea for funeral exemption for drowned son turned down

The devastated family of an 8-year-old boy who drowned have had their request for his funeral to go ahead turned down by the Victorian government.

Cooper Onyett died at the Belfast Aquatics pool in Port Fairy last Friday while away on his first overnight school camp.

His funeral was supposed to be happening today, on the first day of Victoria’s seven-day circuit-breaker lockdown and his family requested an exemption.

However, the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton confirmed this morning his team did not grant the request.

“This is the most tragic circumstances,” he said. “I can’t express enough how sorry I am for the family.

“The exemptions team did speak to the family, and did assess the request. I wasn’t personally involved, the Chief Health Officer doesn’t have a role, appropriately, and I understand that the request was declined.

“I think these are the most difficult decisions for the exemptions team to make, and it will be weighing extremely heavily on them, but our thoughts are with the family at such extraordinarily difficult times.”

He was asked what was behind the decision.

“I don’t know the thinking behind it,” he said. “I am sure they are considering the equity issues for everyone who will unfortunately have funerals in coming days, and the equity issues around how you manage the risk and all of those settings, because we know that transmission occurs in large gatherings.

“This wasn’t how your life was meant to go. This wasn’t how your story was meant to end. You had so much left to do. So much left to achieve. So much left to give,” family member Tennielle Owen wrote in an emotional tribute on Facebook.

“I haven’t had a chance to teach you how to drive the Polaris yet. Jett hadn’t taught you how to mow the paddocks.

“The world hadn’t even seen the half of you yet. Nothing anyone can say will ever be able to take away the pain.”

Cooper’s memorial was set to take place in Warrnambool today at 11am.

Today, caps were placed on funerals as part of the state’s lockdown.

Speaking to 3AW yesterday, Cooper’s mother, Skye Meinen, said an already difficult time had been made worse.

“I’m just hoping that we can gain some sort of exemption,” she told host Neil Mitchell.

“We’ve got a whole school that’s mourning for a friend.”

Meinen said their family needed the support of the community right now, and would have been open to holding the funeral outdoors with masks.

“We really need support from family and friends to get through this,” she said.

“We’ve all been so strong and to rip away the support that we’ve really opened to is just something that I just think would be detrimental.”

Meinen said she found the funeral restrictions particularly hard to accept because there hadn’t been any Covid-19 cases near Warrnambool.

Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters yesterday he was asking public health officials to contact Meinen and to consider an exemption in this case.

“This is a particularly tragic case … it is every parent’s worst nightmare – giving your kids a kiss, they are excited to go off to camp, and then we have this tragic incident,” he said.

“What I can say is we’ve got the settings in terms of funerals, which is a maximum of 10, but I’ve asked, I’ve already indicated and had a discussion with [chief health officer] Professor Sutton that I’ll ask the public health team to get in touch with the mum.”

A GoFundMe has raised more than $84,000 to cover funeral expenses and support his heartbroken family.

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