Australian police clashed with hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday as officials reported the country’s highest ever single-day rise in Covid-19 cases.
Mounted police used pepper spray in Melbourne to break up crowds surging toward police lines, while smaller groups of protesters were prevented from congregating in Sydney by a large contingent of riot police. Police in Victoria had vowed to hand out fines of A$5,000 ($3,600) to any protestor they could identify taking part.
Sydney, a city of more than 5 million people, has been in a strict lockdown for more than two months now, failing so far to contain an outbreak that has spread across internal borders and as far as neighbouring New Zealand. The vast majority of the 894 cases reported across Australia on Saturday were found in Sydney, the epicentre of the Delta variant-fuelled outbreak.
“We are in a very serious situation here in New South Wales,” state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. “There is no time now to be selfish, it’s time to think of the broader community and your families.” In Melbourne, the country’s second-most populous city, a large crowd managed to march and some clashed with police, after state Premier Daniel Andrews expanded a city lockdown to the entire state.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton had earlier warned people to stay away from the protest, adding it was “just ridiculous to think that people would be so selfish and come and do this.” Several hundred people also protested peacefully in Brisbane, which is not in lockdown.
Australia has had about 43,000 COVID-19 cases and 978 deaths. But while those numbers are low, only about a third of Australians aged 16 and above have been fully vaccinated, according to federal health ministry data released on Saturday. New South Wales officials reported three deaths and 516 people in hospital on Saturday. Of the 85 people in intensive care, 76 were unvaccinated, officials said.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: ENGLISH.ALARABIYA.NET
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