Thousands of protesters on Saturday took to the streets of Sydney and other cities across Australia to push back on continued COVID-19 lockdown orders amid new record case surges in the country.
Videos and photos posted to social media showed people, many of whom were not wearing masks, gathered closely together in the streets of Sydney, chanting “freedom” and holding signs with phrases like “unmask the truth.”
Some violent clashes erupted between protesters and police, who tried to disperse the demonstrators to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks in Sydney’s state of New South Wales, which reported 163 new coronavirus infections on Friday.
New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced last week that Sydney would be extending its coronavirus lockdown for the second time, with residents only allowed to leave their homes for essential activities until July 30.
The city has already been under lockdown for the past four weeks, spurring backlash among residents who wish to return to normal activities following more than a year of safety restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that police on Saturday arrested 57 people and issued 90 fines against protest participants, with law enforcement still searching for a man who was photographed punching a mounted police horse.
The New South Wales police later said in a Facebook post that the horse was “safe and uninjured” following the encounter.
Thousands of people also gathered to protest coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne Saturday, with some lighting flares as they gathered outside Victoria state’s Parliament House, The Associated Press reported.
One banner held by Melbourne protesters read, “This is not about a virus it’s about total government control of the people.”
Many on social media condemned the actions of the anti-lockdown protesters, including New South Wales Labor Party leader Chris Minns, who tweeted, “The images coming out of Sydney today are inexcusable.”
“They're an affront to all those putting their own lives on the line to save others,” he added. “All todays anti-lockdown protest does is risk prolonging the lockdown.”
Mills argued, “We won't get through this virus unless we follow the health advice.”
The images coming out of Sydney today are inexcusable.— Chris Minns (@MinnsChris) July 24, 2021
They're an affront to all those putting their own lives on the line to save others.
All todays anti-lockdown protest does is risk prolonging the lockdown.
We won't get through this virus unless we follow the health advice.
The Australian government on Saturday announced it will be giving New South Wales an extra 50,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week to help curb the spread of infections.
As of Friday, only 15 percent of Australia’s population ages 16 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the AP.