Police arrested 190 protesters in London on Thursday evening after new restrictions as part of a second national lockdown came into effect earlier that day, New Scotland Yard said.
The Metropolitan Police (MET) said all of the arrests were for breaches of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions.
The MET said that 189 of the arrested are being investigated for a fixed penalty notice and one is being investigated for a £10,000 (£13120.69) fine.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said that breaching the regulations was unacceptable.
“Those who came out to protest last night put their health at risk and frustratingly, they put the health of London and our officers at risk, this is clearly unacceptable,” Twist said in a statement on Friday.
Jane Connors, the police commander leading the operation, had said on Thursday that the main priority of the operation was to keep Londoners safe.
“Tonight, a crowd of people chose to ignore the new regulations, to behave irresponsibly and meet in a dangerous manner,” she said in a statement.
“We are eight months into this national pandemic and frankly there can be no excuse for people to dangerously breach regulations which are there to prevent further spread of coronavirus,” Connors added.
The protest in central London, which attracted at least a thousand people—or several thousand, according to some reports—was organised online as part of the annual global “Million Mask March,” an anti-establishment protest started in 2012.
The crowd chanted slogans such as “no more lockdown” and “take your freedom back” as they marched down The Strand.
The MET posted an open letter at 6:17 p.m. on Thursday that strongly advised people not to attend the march, after people started to gather in Trafalgar Square in central London.
The letter warned people that they risked committing a criminal offence by gathering in large groups or encouraging others to unlawfully participate in a large gathering.
Please see our open letter to those groups or individuals looking to protest.
It is your responsibility to check the current position and ensure you are not committing an offence by being involved in a gathering. We urge anyone arranging a gathering to inform your local police. pic.twitter.com/eTwJU1rPD8
— MPS Events (@MetPoliceEvents) November 5, 2020
The MET said officers “took immediate action to direct people to go home” as soon as crowds began gathering.
By 7:03 p.m., “A large group of protesters” had moved off from Trafalgar Square and were “ignoring officers directions,” according to the MET’s live update on Twitter.
“Arrests were made as people failed to comply with the direction of officers,” the MET said in a statement.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday ordered England back into a national lockdown from Thursday morning after the UK passed the milestone of 1 million CCP virus cases and a potential second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.
People have been ordered to stay at home to combat a surge in new infections that some scientists say could, if unchecked, cause more deaths than a first wave that forced a three-month lockdown earlier this year.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) had on Thursday morning urged the public to follow the latest regulations.
“Not following the regulations and measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus is unacceptable,” an NPCC statement reads.
“We won’t waste time with endless encouragement for those who knowingly or deliberately break the rules. People recklessly ignoring the regulations should expect to receive a fixed penalty notice.”
The MET’s Twitter update of the Thursday night operation sparked a mix of reactions.
Some said the protesters behaved in a selfish and irresponsible manner during a global pandemic and the police were right to enforce the law. Others said they do not consent to the lockdown measures and accused the police of applying a different standard to the anti-lockdown protests compared to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer.
Reuters contributed to this report.