Up to a thousand police officers will be at the ready for individuals attending protests against COVID lockdowns in Sydney this weekend.
It follows an earlier announcement that 300 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have been called in to assist police with compliance with COVID restrictions.
New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said law enforcement were monitoring online activity and believed a protest event was likely.
“It appears it will not be in the same numbers. It can still be violent,” he told reporters on July 30.
“Please don’t come into Sydney tomorrow to protest. If you do, you will be met by up to 1,000 police who will be ready to deal with you, whether that be via the health orders or other laws,” he warned.
So far, NSW Police have detained 60 people from protests last week and issued 200 infringement notices.
On July 24, thousands of individuals attended a protest against COVID lockdown restrictions. Police carried out several arrests and set up a task force to identify every rallygoer.
Strike Force Seasoned has been combing through social media, CCTV feeds, and police cameras to identify participants.
So far, police have also received 20,000 tip-offs from the public, including photos and names of alleged attendees.
Greater Sydney was undergoing a five-week lockdown due to an outbreak of the Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. On July 28, this lockdown was extended by another four weeks, with the government citing low vaccination rates.
Five million residents are affected and cannot leave their homes except for essential reasons.
NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kerry Chant said authorities were also investigating whether a COVID-positive person had attended the event.
Police confirmed a 35-year-old man from Granville in Sydney’s west was identified in the CBD—20km away—despite being subject to stay-at-home orders. He was fined $1,000, told to return home, but tested positive to COVID-19 the next day.
“We’re just working with police to ascertain whether that person did attend (the protests),” Chant told reporters. “If that person would have attended the protest, they would have been infectious.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he would have effectively been “carrying a deadly weapon; he was carrying the virus.”
Chant said while she was not aware of any infections from the protest, she said investigations would continue and that authorities would adopt a hard line.
“I am totally committed to the fact that we need to have a low tolerance for where people are flagrantly breaking the rule—this is too much of a severe disease, too serious a situation to be in, to have people knowingly going out when they are positive,” she said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told prospective protesters that their “actions will hurt.”
“Do not give those you love the most a death sentence,” she told reporters.