Protesters are massing in capital cities around Australia to object to lockdowns prompted by COVID-19.
Thousands of angry, unmasked people marched from inner Sydney’s Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district on Saturday.
They broke through a police barrier before continuing down George Street but were met by a heavy police presence, including mounted police and riot officers.
Protesters – who were seen carrying signs calling for “freedom” and “the truth” – threw plastic bottles and plants taken from the street at officers, and several arrests have already been made.
The protest comes as COVID-19 case numbers in NSW reached another record high since the first wave in 2020.
Some 163 new local cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, up from 136 the day before.
Greater Sydney has been locked down for the past four weeks, with residents only able to leave home with a reasonable excuse.
The lockdown will continue until at least July 30 but may be extended as the state continues to record a growing number of cases.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard condemned the planned protest as “really silly” on Saturday morning.
“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.”
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said it was not the time for a protest.
He said police wanted to work with the organisers to make sure people were complying with public health orders and that it did not turn into a “disastrous” mass spreading event.
Earlier on Saturday, Hazzard said the new cases were mainly in the southwest Sydney areas of Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Blacktown and Liverpool.
He said additional restrictions had to be placed on Cumberland and Blacktown on Friday night to prevent anyone but authorised workers from leaving those local government areas.
“We really need our community, particularly in southwestern and western Sydney, to stay at home, to hear the message and stay at home,” the health minister said.
“And don’t intermingle with family members from other households. It will continue to cause massive grief here in Sydney, particularly in western and southwestern Sydney, if family members mix with family members from other households.
“Just please, stop doing it. Stop.”
Melbourne’s ‘freedom’ march
At least 1000 people also gathered in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday.
Flares have been lit outside Victoria’s Parliament House, where protesters gathered to chant “freedom”.
Victoria’s current set of restrictions are set to be eased on July 27, but Premier Daniel Andrews has said health authorities want more data before deciding if the lockdown will end on time.
The state recorded another 12 new locally acquired coronavirus cases just days out from the planned end of lockdown restrictions.
On Saturday morning, the Department of Health confirmed the cases had been recorded from more than 39,800 tests.
All have been linked to the current Delta strain outbreak, and 10 of the 12 cases were in quarantine throughout their entire infectious period.
A car rally is also planned for locked-down Adelaide, with police warning they will make arrests over unlawful activity.