As thousands of anti-lockdown protesters defied Covid-19 restrictions and gathered in Sydney’s CBD, 57 people were arrested.
New South Wales (NSW) Police Minister David Elliott said 57 people have been charged after attending an anti-lockdown protest in Sydney today, and that a strike force has been established to identify others who were there.
Officers issued more than 90 infringement notices to people at the demonstration and more arrests are likely.
“What we saw today was 3500 very selfish boofheads – people that thought the law didn’t apply to them,” Elliott said.
Twenty-two detectives will be involved in the strike force and will work until “whenever it concludes” to identify protesters.
Earlier, Central Sydney was shut down for several hours as thousands of protesters breached Covid-19 restrictions to march, sparking brawls and several arrests.
People in Greater Sydney and its surrounds have been living in lockdown for exactly four weeks, as an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.
In the 24 hours to 8:00pm Friday (local time), a record 163 new infections were announced.
Protesters shouted “freedom” as they marched towards the CBD through the suburb of Haymarket, which had just moments earlier been declared a virus hotspot by NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty at a press conference.
There were chaotic scenes on Broadway, one of the main arteries through Sydney’s inner west, with thousands of people blocking traffic to take part in the unauthorised event.
By the time the crowd reached George Street, a brawl broke out.
Opposite Sydney Town Hall, protesters swarmed and threw items at mounted police.
Officers then formed a barricade across George Street which cut off hundreds of protesters still making their way down one of the country’s most iconic thoroughfares.
Well this sucks: anti-lockdown protesters from all over Sydney have staged a mass gathering in the Inner West. View few masks in sight, but plenty of COVID conspiracy t-shirts pic.twitter.com/4xEvR8olXN
— Zac Crellin (@zacrellin) July 24, 2021
More than a dozen people scaled an awning to jump and chant to a large crowd below.
Some protesters brought their children, and only a few people wore face masks at the demonstration, which began in Camperdown’s Victoria Park.
Protesters held signs that read “Wake up Australia” and waved Australian flags.
An application for the protest was received by NSW Police, but it was denied.
People who are not from the same household are not permitted to gather in groups of more than two outside, according to current public health orders.
Even so, it must be for exercise.
Huge anti-lockdown protest in Sydney’s CBD. Thousands of marchers chanting “freedom”. This man was arrested after he was pushed into a police officer pic.twitter.com/oDiG88lSyM
— Georgie Mitchell (@gmitch_news) July 24, 2021
In a statement, NSW Police said it “recognises and supports” the right to exercise free speech and peaceful assembly but the protest was in breach of the current Covid-19 public health orders.
“The priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community,” the statement read.
Police said several protesters had been arrested and as people dispersed, they would be told to walk back down George Street.
St James and Museum train stations were closed.
When asked about the protest this morning, Health Minister Brad Hazzard described anyone who got involved as “silly”.
“I actually think it is really silly,” he said.
“At the present time we’ve got cases going through the roof, and we have people thinking that it’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration.”
Hazzard has previously stated that “wacko views” that lead to people disobeying health orders would jeopardise the state’s Covid-19 recovery.
Protests against the lockdown have also taken place in Melbourne and Brisbane, with thousands of people in both cities calling for freedom from restrictions.
Although no stay-at-home orders have been issued for Brisbane, the state is on high alert after a flight attendant with the Delta variant crewed six Qantas flights to Gladstone, Hervey Bay, and Longreach.
Melbourne is in its fifth lockdown, which has already been extended once, and 12 new Covid-19 cases were reported today.