Australia’s day of protest has made waves around the world, as chaotic images of demonstrators clashing with police flooded social media.
Thousands took to the streets of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in opposition to lockdowns and vaccination passports.
The scenes turned ugly in Sydney after a brawl broke out at Chippendale as the horde of sign-carrying demonstrators marched down Broadway towards Town Hall.
Images showed protestors climbing on top of buildings, with the crowd waving signs reading everything from “My Body, My Choice”, “The New World Order Is The Real Virus” and “SOS Australia”.
One banner spotted in Melbourne read: “This is not about a virus, it’s about total government control of the people”.
Two men in Sydney were charged with allegedly assaulting horses as mounted police attempted to disperse the CBD horde.
Other clips showed people hurling pot plants at the outnumbered police.
While many in the crowd appeared to be there for different reasons, the intention of thousands to disregard the growing Delta strain outbreak and take to the streets without masks generated immediate backlash.
A performing fire breather was also spotted among the crowd, with one onlooker describing it as “the perfect metaphor” for the potential burst in case numbers.
NSW recorded 163 new cases on Saturday, the state’s biggest day since going into lockdown in June. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned the state’s capital will be under indefinite restrictions until community transmission returns to zero.
Police arrested 57 people and issued 90 fines against protest participants in Sydney. A strike force of 22 detectives has now been deployed to track down other participants.
US-based news outlet NPR jumped on the story immediately, posting a photo of a man bloodied from a scuffle with police.
“Unmasked participants marched from Sydney‘s Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district, carrying signs calling for “freedom” and ”the truth,” the article reads.
Singapore’s The Straits Timesdescribed Australia as “coronavirus weary”, publishing several images of the events.
French media was also quick to the story. France is currently dealing with a wave of similar protests in Paris, where some 160,000 people gathered to oppose restrictions on liberty.
“After escaping much of the early pandemic unscathed, around half of Australia’s 25 million people are now in lockdown across several cities,” the French newswire France24 read.
“Protest organisers had dubbed the protest a “freedom” rally and publicised it on social media pages frequently used to spread vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories.”
Insane footage of CBD brawls with police were also published on the UK’s Telegraph, India’s The Hinduand Washington D.C. based publication The Hill.
The chaos has brought the topic of civilians’ rights to protest back into conversation. State Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he “supports people’s right to protest” but the recent swath of demonstrations were in clear violation of public health advice.
“We live in a democracy and normally I am certainly one who supports people‘s rights to protest … but at the present time we’ve got cases going through the roof and we have people thinking that’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration,” state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns was particularly vocal against the protest, describing the scenes as “inexcusable”.
“They‘re an affront to all those putting their own lives on the line to save others,” he said. “All todays anti-lockdown protest does is risk prolonging the lockdown.
“We won‘t get through this virus unless we follow the health advice.”
Fears are growing for case numbers after the demonstration, which appeared to be an anti-mask affair.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian condemned the protests on Saturday evening, warning their actions have compromised the safety of the state, which has surpassed 2,000 active cases since the recent Delta outbreak.
“I am utterly disgusted by the illegal protesters in the city today whose selfish actions have compromised the safety of all of us,” the premier said in a statement.
“The protesters have shown utter contempt for their fellow citizens who are currently doing it tough.”