MELBOURNE, Australia: Thousands of protesters defied coronavirus lockdowns to hit the streets of Australia’s largest cities on Saturday, as the country recorded its highest single-day caseload since the pandemic began.
The states of New South Wales (NSW) — home to Australia’s most populous city, Sydney — and Victoria reported a total of 886 infections Saturday, amid a raging outbreak of the Delta variant.
Hundreds of unmasked protesters were seen marching through Melbourne’s Central Business District before confronting police hours after a snap lockdown was announced for the entire state of Victoria.
Six officers were hospitalised in the protests, suffering suspected broken noses, a broken thumb and concussions, police said in a statement.
Police used pepper ball rounds and pepper spray against some members of the crowd, estimated to be more than 4,000 strong.
Hundreds of fines were handed out for breaching health ordinances and 218 people were arrested — including three for assaulting officers, Victoria police said.
At Sydney’s protests, one officer was treated for head and neck injuries, and 47 people were arrested, NSW police said.
Sydney has been in lockdown for two months while Melbourne and the capital, Canberra, went into lockdown earlier this month.
Under the rules of the lockdown, people are mostly confined to their homes and have limits placed on their social interactions.
Despite those measures, Sydney’s New South Wales state reported a record 825 new daily community infections on Saturday. Several cities are battling outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Protesters say the lockdowns should end, but authorities say they are necessary to suppress the spread of the virus and save lives.
In Melbourne, a crowd of about 4,000 mostly unmasked protesters fired off flares, yelled and blasted music in the central city.
Victoria state police arrested 218 people and issued more than 200 fines, each for more than 5,400 Australian dollars.
Six Victoria state police officers were hospitalised and three people remained in custody for allegedly assaulting police. Officers used pepper spray on several people, saying in a statement they were left with no choice.
In New South Wales state, police said they arrested 47 people and fined more than 260 in relation to demonstrations across the state. They also issued 137 tickets after stopping about 38,000 vehicles that approached the city.
New South Wales state police said a 32-year-old man who allegedly assaulted an officer was arrested and they expected to file charges. The officer was taken to an area hospital for head and neck injuries.
New South Wales Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said police expected to identify more people through security cameras and social media footage.
More than 2,000 people also gathered in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens to rally against the lockdown and vaccine measures, although Queensland state police said they did not make any arrests.
“Wake up sheeple,” read one sign at the Brisbane protest.