SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Police in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne prepared for a fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday after more than 200 arrests a day earlier, while COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record.
Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the city of 5 million since officials earlier this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.
Police used capsicum spray and foam baton rounds on Wednesday to disperse protesters who gathered at a memorial honouring war service, prompting veteran groups and some politicians to speak out against using the shrine as a rally point.
“It dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were engaged in that disgraceful behaviour should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
As authorities brace for more protests, Victoria reported 766 new locally acquired cases, topping its previous pandemic daily high of 725 hit on Aug. 5, 2020, and four new deaths. It reported 628 cases on Wednesday.
Australia is fighting a third wave of infections from an outbreak of the Delta variant in its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and its capital Canberra, forcing nearly half the country’s 25 million people into strict stay-at-home restrictions.
Officials have promised to ease lockdown rules once 70% of adults are fully vaccinated, which is expected next month. Some 55.5% of people aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated in New South Wales and about 45% in Victoria.
Australia’s total infections topped 90,000, with some 60,000 recorded since mid-June when the first Delta case was detected in Sydney. Total deaths are just below 1,200, but still lower than in many other comparable countries.