Several people have been arrested as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters breached COVID-19 restrictions and gathered in Sydney’s CBD.
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, 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.
ABC News: Tim Swanston
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.
More than a dozen people scaled an awning to jump and chant to a large crowd below.
Some protesters brought their children, while few people were wearing face masks at the demonstration, which started at Victoria Park in Camperdown.
Protesters carried signs saying “Wake up Australia” and waved Australian flags.
ABC News: Timothy Swanston
NSW Police received an application for the protest, which was rejected.
Under the current public health orders, people who are not from the same household cannot gather in groups of more than two outside.
Even then, it has to be for exercise.
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.
ABC News: Tim Swanston
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.”
Mr Hazzard has previously said “wacko views” leading people to flout health orders would put the state’s COVID-19 recovery at risk.
Anti-lockdown protests have also taken place in Melbourne and Brisbane, with thousands of people in each city also calling for freedom from restrictions.
ABC News: Patrick Rocca
Brisbane is not currently subject to stay-at-home orders, but 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 today recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases.
This content was originally published here.