Sydney police crack down on planned anti-lockdown protest

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – More than 1,500 police were deployed to the streets of Sydney on Saturday and rideshares and some public transport routes to the city’s downtown were blocked to prevent a planned anti-lockdown protest.

“Public safety is our first priority and you will be fined or arrested if you turn up,” the New South Wales police said in a statement on its Twitter account, adding that the protest was unauthorised and risked further spreading COVID-19.

Sydney, a city of more than 5 million people, has been in a strict lockdown for weeks now, struggling to contain an outbreak of the highly transmissible coronavirus Delta variant, which has now caused cases in other towns and cities across Australia as well as in New Zealand.

Australian media reported that a similar protest was planned in Melbourne, also a city of more than 5 million people, which is in its sixth lockdown since the start of the pandemic. On Saturday there were 61 new locally acquired cases reported in Melbourne and throughout the state of Victoria.

Compliance with public health rules had been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success in managing the pandemic before the third wave of infections from the Delta variant.

A July poll by the NSW-based market research firm Utting Research showed that only 7% of the people support the demonstrations. Australia’s COVID-19 numbers are still relatively low with just over 42,200 cases and 975 deaths.