Authorities in New South Wales said 57 people were arrested Saturday during an unauthorised protest against a COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney.
Along with the 57 arrests, police issued at least 90 penalty infringement notices established a strike force, according to a NSW police statement.
The work of the strike force, which will include at least 22 detectives, has begun, according to Mal Lanyon, deputy commissioner of metropolitan field operations.
“Our officers have already begun to identify attendees and will continue to do so for as long as it takes to identify and prosecute everyone who broke the law today,” Lanyon said.
Protesters shouted “freedom” while marching through the Haymarket suburb, which NSW health director Dr. Jeremy McAnulty had declared a COVID-19 hotspot moments earlier, toward the central business district, ABC News Australia reported.
Thousands of people disrupted traffic on Sydney’s Broadway before marching to Town Hall in the city’s central business district. Protesters hurled objects at mounted police in large numbers, according to local media.
“What we saw today was 3,500 very selfish boofheads — people that thought the law didn’t apply to them,” NSW Police Minister David Elliott told ABC News.
Lanyon said in statement more than 350 police responded to the the anti-lockdown protest.
“I want to thank the more than 350 police who were part of today’s response,” Lanyon said. “They did not go to work to be assaulted or have projectiles thrown at them — the actions of the individuals involved in those offenses was a disgrace.”
Elliott said in the statement that the strike force “will forensically investigate all CCTV and social media footage,” from the protest.
“It will only take one person with COVID-19 to turn today’s event into a super-spreader, so decent-minded Australians have every right to feel infuriated at such selfish behavior,” Elliott added.
The protests came as NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced 163 new COVID-19 infections in the southeastern Australian state, up from 136 cases the previous day.
Anti-lockdown demonstrations also took place in Melbourne, with flares set off outside Parliament House, and in Brisbane, where thousands protested in the city’s Botanic Gardens, according to ABC News. Six people were arrested and dozens were fined in Melbourne for failing to comply with lockdown orders to stay within a 3.1 mile radius of their homes, but no arrests or fines were made in Brisbane.
Brisbane is not under lockdown, but it’s under alert to contain the spread of the Delta variant after a flight attendant from northern Brisbane traveled while having the virus.