MELBOURNE, Aug 21 (Reuters) – Australian police arrested hundreds of anti-lock down protesters in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday and seven officers were hospitalized as a result of clashes, as the country saw its highest ever single-day rise in Covid-19 cases.
Mounted police used chemical pepper spray in Melbourne to break up crowds of more than 4,000 surging toward police lines, while smaller groups of protesters were prevented from congregating in Sydney by a large contingent of riot police.
Victoria state police said that they arrested 218 people in the state capital Melbourne. They issued 236 fines and kept three people in custody for assaulting police. The arrested people face fines of A$5,452 ($3,900) each for breaching public health orders.
Police in New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, said they charged 47 people with breaching public health orders or resisting arrest, among other offenses, and issued more than 260 fines ranging from A$50 ($35) to $3,000. The police said about 250 people made it to the city for the protest.
Sydney, Australia’s biggest city with more than 5 million people, has been in a strict lock-down for more than two months, failing to contain an outbreak that has spread across internal borders and as far as neighboring New Zealand.
The vast majority of the 894 cases reported across Australia on Saturday were found in Sydney, the epicenter of the so-called Delta variant-fueled outbreak.
Police patrolled Sydney’s streets and blocked private and public transport into the city center to reduce the number of people gathering at an unauthorized protest.
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 lock-down to the entire state.
Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success, relative to other rich countries, in managing the pandemic. But the country has been struggling to rein in the third wave of infections that began in Sydney in mid-June.
Reuters.com / ABC Flash Point Apartheid News 2021.