Thousands of police officers are poised to block anti-lockdown protests across Australia today as Sydney enters its first weekend of tightened restrictions, and Melbourne sees another surge in case numbers.
In central Sydney, those planning on attending a planned anti-lockdown ‘freedom rally’ from midday will be met with a ‘zero tolerance’ force of 1400 ready to dish out fines and make arrests for breach of public health orders.
It comes as online groups attempt to hatch plans to evade police and descend upon the city to fight for eased restrictions amid the spread of the deadly delta strain.
A large contingent of officers will be stationed across the city’s major roads to intercept people on their way to the protest, as key organisers in online groups share plots to evade police and continue with the illegal gathering.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports one admin of a 2500-member anti-vax group on encrypted app Telegram saying: “The police will clamp down harder this time, but that is fine because we will still heavily outnumber them and have many brave warriors on our side ready to stand up and Fight for Freedom.”
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said he was aware of techniques being discussed and has strategies in place to respond.
Police have also issued a number of public safety orders against key “agitators” to restrict their ability to participate.
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The noon protest has been organised by groups of conspiracy theorists as part of a “nationwide rally for freedom, peace and human rights”. It is the same group behind a July major protest which resulted in 350 fines and 60 people charged, as well as shocking footage and imagery of wild unrest on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney.
Organisers have planned the gatherings across Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns and Townsville.
Police Minister David Elliott said officers were ready to impose strong penalties to anyone caught participating, urging people to instead express their views online rather than risk infection in the community.
“Anybody who attends the protest tomorrow is going to be facing the full force of the NSW Police Force. You’ll also be endangering the lives of your loved ones and of course prolonging this lockdown,” Mr Elliott said.
“If you’re in a non-hotspot LGA, the last thing you want is people coming to this rally tomorrow and taking back to your LGA the same level of infection that we’ve got tragically in the 12 that are considered hot spots right now,” he said.
In a bid to further quash any potential freedom protests today, NSW Police have once again prohibited taxi, rideshare and passenger services from transporting passengers to the Sydney CBD between 9am and 3pm today.
Authorities are particularly concerned protesters will be motivated by the NSW government’s introduction of new restrictions on Friday.
Stay-at-home orders now remain in place across the city until the end of September and residents in virus hot spots will also be subject to a night-time curfew and limited to one hour of outdoor exercise a day.
Of those, 22 were in isolation for the duration of their infectious period and 48 are linked to known outbreaks.
In addition to the new cases, there are an additional 16 local cases recorded on a rapid PCR testing platform and will be reported in tomorrow‘s numbers, Victoria’s Department of Health announced.
With the likely announcement of further restrictions today, police are expecting a high volume of protesters.
“There will be a highly visible police presence in the Melbourne CBD, on the roads and across the public transport network on Saturday, to ensure the community is complying with the chief health officer directions,” Victoria Police Sergeant Megan Stefanec said.
“Those who choose to blatantly disregard the CHO‘s directions and put the health and safety of all Victorians in jeopardy can expect to be held accountable.”
Attending an unlawful protest in Victoria can attract a $5452 fine.