Thousands of people took to the streets of Sydney and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest pandemic lockdown restrictions amid another surge in COVID-19 cases, and police made multiple arrests after crowds broke through barriers and threw plastic bottles and potted plants.
The unmasked participants marched from Sydney’s Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district, carrying signs calling for “freedom” and “the truth.”
There was a heavy police presence in Sydney, including mounted police and riot officers, in response to what authorities said was unauthorized protest activity. Police arrested 57 people after objects were thrown at officers.
The protest comes as COVID-19 case numbers in the state of New South Wales reached another record with 163 new infections in the last 24 hours.
Greater Sydney has been locked down for the past four weeks, with residents only able to leave home with a reasonable excuse.
“We live in a democracy, and normally I am certainly one who supports people’s rights to protest … but at the present time, we’ve got cases going through the roof and we have people thinking that’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration,” said state Health Minister Brad Hazzard.
In Melbourne, thousands of protesters without masks turned out downtown chanting “freedom.” Some of them lit flares as they gathered outside Victoria state’s Parliament House.
They held banners, including one that read: “This is not about a virus it’s about total government control of the people.”
A car protest rally was also planned in Adelaide, which is also under lockdown. Police warned they would make arrests over unlawful activity.
By Friday, 15.4 per cent of the country’s population aged 16 and older had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’ve turned the corner, we’ve got it sorted. We’re hitting the marks that we need to make, a million doses a week are now being delivered,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “We are well on our way to where we want to be by the end of the year and potentially sooner than that.”
The government said it will send thousands of extra Pfizer-BioNTech doses to Sydney in the coming week, while adults in Australia’s largest city are also being urged to “strongly consider” AstraZeneca-Oxford in view of the scarcity of Pfizer supplies.
What’s happening in Tokyo
The very first match of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament has been cancelled because a Czech player tested positive for COVID-19.
Marketa Slukova tested positive earlier this week, knocking her and partner Barbora Hermannova out of the Tokyo Games.
The Czechs were supposed to be playing a team from the host country that would have been making its Olympic debut. Instead, the Japanese pair of Megumi Murakami and Miki Ishii earned the victory by default.
Slukova is one of at least three members of the Czech team who have tested positive since their arrival in Japan, including men’s beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic.
The team has said it’s investigating if the outbreak of COVID-19 is linked to its charter flight to Tokyo.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 193.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.1 million.
In Asia, Vietnam has announced a 15-day lockdown in the capital Hanoi as a coronavirus surge spread from the southern Mekong Delta region. The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public. Only government offices, hospitals and essential businesses can stay open.
In Africa, Tanzania on Saturday received its first batch of one million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines donated by the U.S. government. Tanzania had been among the few countries in Africa yet to receive vaccines or start vaccinating its population, mainly because its former leader had claimed that prayer had defeated COVID-19 in the country.
In the Americas, Cuba has received a shipment of COVID-19 aid from Russia, including one million medical masks, according to the Latin American country’s Defence Ministry. Cuba, which kept coronavirus infections low last year, earlier this week reported the highest rate of infections per capita in the region, straining its health-care sector and helping stoke rare anti-government protests earlier this month.
In Europe, far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement are holding protests on Saturday against new coronavirus measures. French lawmakers are debating a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health-care workers as infections and hospitalizations are again on the rise.