Thousands of people hit the streets of Australia’s largest cities on Saturday, defying coronavirus lockdowns. The protest got particularly chaotic in Melbourne, devolving into clashes between anti-lockdown marchers and police.
An estimated 4,000 protesters gathered in the central business district of Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, defying the enduring anti-coronavirus restrictions. The unauthorized protest was met by a large police force that included riot and mounted units.
Footage from the scene shows some protesters brawling with officers, as law enforcement responded with pepper spray and pepper ball rounds. Some 218 protesters ended up being detained, including three arrested for assaulting officers, according to Victoria state police.
The arrested now face fines of AUD$5,452 ($3,900) each for breaching public health guidelines. Six police officers ended up hospitalized suffering various injuries including suspected broken noses and concussions.
Smaller protests took place in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW) with some 250 people showing up in the city’s center according to local police. Some 47 people were charged with breaching public health orders or resisting arrest, while more than 260 fines ranging from AUD$50 ($35) to $3,000 were issued. One police officer was hospitalized suffering injuries to his neck and head.
On Friday, NSW authorities extended its Covid lockdown, with nearly a half of Sydney’s five million residents set to remain under a nightly curfew until mid-September. In Melbourne, a similar order is already in place, with around a quarter of Australia’s population remaining under tight restrictions requiring residents to stay at home with rare exceptions.
The protests came as Australia, which had kept an extremely tight grip on Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, registered its worst single-day increase in cases of the virus. The states of Victoria and New South Wales reported a total of 886 new cases, with the majority of them originating in Sydney.
So far, Australia has clocked around 43,000 cases of coronavirus including almost 1,000 deaths. The country’s authorities have repeatedly introduced lockdowns even over a handful of cases, as well as kept the borders tightly shut – even for Australians stranded abroad, insisting it was the only way to keep the virus at bay. Recently, however, the country has been hit with the extra contagious Delta variant of the virus, which prompted an uptick in new infections.
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