Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Melbourne, Australia, in a largely peaceful fashion to rally against local lockdown restrictions—a stark contrast to the situation in Sydney, where more than 1,500 police officers descended upon the central business district (CBD) and surrounding areas to quash what was believed to be a planned anti-lockdown protest.
Police in New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, announced Saturday morning that public transport routes and ride shares to downtown Sydney would be blocked. Trains had to skip major train stations until 2 p.m. local time. Taxis and rideshare companies were threatened with fines of up to half a million dollars if they take people to central Sydney between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time.
Police officers held up traffic on major roads into the city to fend off any hints of a planned protest. They issued a total of 137 tickets after stopping some 38,000 cars.
In a statement on Twitter, the NSW police said that a protest is unauthorised and would risk spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. “Public safety is our first priority and you will be fined or arrested if you turn up.”
From about 10 a.m. local time, a police chopper began circling above what was believed to be the protest’s planned starting point. Video footage showed groups of police officers chasing people and taking away several people near Victoria Park.
NSW police ultimately charged 47 people with breaching public health orders or resisting arrest, among other offences, and issued more than 260 fines ranging from A$50 ($35) to $3,000 ($2,139). The police said about 250 people made it to the city for the protest.
One of the alleged organisers of the Saturday protest, 29-year-old Anthony Khallouf, was sentenced to eight months in prison where he will spend at least three months, for having failed to comply with NSW public health orders.
Separately, in Queensland’s capital of Brisbane, thousands of people gathered in the city’s Botanic Gardens to rally against the lockdown and vaccine measures, reported The Courier Mail. “Wake up sheeple,” one sign read, reported the Australian Associated Press. Queensland Police said they did not make any arrests, the outlet reported.
Police in South Australia also said no arrests were made at an anti-lockdown protest in Rundle Park in Adelaide, according to AAP.
Meanwhile, in Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, large crowds in the thousands took to the streets converging from multiple directions around noon, calling an end to lockdowns and restrictions.
Chants of “freedom” and “Sack Dan Andrews,” referring to the Victorian premier, could be heard occasionally from the crowds, a live video of the event showed. Footage showed crowds, including women and children, proceeding along the major streets of Melbourne CBD.
In a separate video from the Melbourne protest, a small crowd could be seen charging at a group of police officers while one officer was seen knocked down to the ground. Another video showed one officer firing rubber bullets at protesters, while another officer targeted the protesters with pepper spray.
Protesters in Melbourne dispersed after about two hours. Victoria state police said that they arrested 218 people, issued 236 fines, and kept three people in custody for assaulting police in Melbourne. The arrested people face fines of A$5,452 ($3,900) each for breaching public health orders.
Melbourne is home to more than 5 million people. The city is currently in its sixth lockdown since the start of the CCP virus pandemic.
Victoria is set to enter a statewide lockdown at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, joining Melbourne with the restrictions—except for a curfew that applies only to Melbourne—until at least the end of Sept. 2.
Victoria reported 61 new locally acquired cases of the CCP virus on Saturday morning.
In NSW, that figure was 825, with nearly 80 percent of the new cases recorded in 12 local government areas of concern.
Sydney, with a population of more than 5 million people, has been under strict lockdown rules since late June. Current local restrictions in Sydney prohibit outdoor gatherings and rules stipulate that people can only leave home for a select few reasons, with newly announced curfews.
New rules and restrictions were announced Friday for NSW, which includes compulsory masks for everyone when outdoors, except when exercising. The lockdown in Sydney has also been extended until Sept. 30.
NSW also saw three more deaths, which include a man in his 90s and a man in his 80s who were residents at Greenwood Aged Care at Normanhurst, where a staffer worked two days while believed to be infectious. The third death is a woman in her 90s from southwest Sydney; she died at Liverpool Hospital.
Reuters contributed to this report.