The weekend’s anti-lockdown protests in Sydney were “selfish and self-defeating,” Australia’s prime minister said Sunday, as governments around the world tightened restrictions again to fight the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
Some 3,500 people protested in Sydney on Saturday after New South Wales tightened its regulations last week as the city’s lockdown enters its fifth week. The demonstrations violated the region’s strict stay-at-home orders, restrictions on public gatherings and face mask mandates.
Authorities are warning it might have been a superspreader event.
New South Wales police said Sunday they had arrested 63 people allegedly involved in the protest and charged 35 with violations such as resisting, assaulting and obstructing officers. Two men were charged with striking a police horse; they were refused bail.
Police have appealed to the public for help identifying participants; they said they have received more than 5,500 reports. They are also combing social media, police body cameras and CCTV footage.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized the weekend’s protests in Sydney and other Australian cities.
“It achieves no purpose,” he said, according to the Guardian. “It won’t end the lockdown sooner.”
Other Australian leaders issued similar condemnations.
“It just broke my heart that people had such a disregard for their fellow citizens,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. She said she was “utterly disgusted.”
“Sydney isn’t immune from morons,” said New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott, according to the Guardian.
Protests were also held in Melbourne and cities across Australia. Victoria premier Daniel Andrews described them as a “small minority having a self-indulgent tantrum.”
You “cannot vaccinate against selfishness,” he said.
Nearly half of Australia’s population of roughly 25 million is under some form of lockdown as delta-fueled outbreaks have hit cities and communities that until recently were largely spared the worst of the pandemic.
Though Australia’s infection and fatality rates remain far below global hot spots such as India and Brazil, authorities worry that the country’s sluggish vaccine rollout will make this wave harder to control. Less than 13 percent of Australians have been fully inoculated since the country’s vaccine program began in February.
On Sunday, New South Wales reported 141 new confirmed coronavirus cases and two related fatalities, including the death of a 30-year-old woman.
Nearly 18 months since the first round of shutdowns hit much of the world, some governments have once again been reimposing restrictions. Though many had looked forward to easing social and economic controls with the advent of coronavirus vaccines, the emergence of highly transmissible variants, deep global disparities in vaccine access and vaccine hesitation and misinformation have upended expectations.
Once more, these restrictions have led to rounds of protest and unrest in cities and communities across the globe, with slogans ranging from misinformation about the vaccines to concerns over government overstep.
On Saturday, police in Paris deployed tear gas at protesters demonstrating against plans by French President Emmanuel Macron to implement a health pass that will offer access to restaurants, bars and other venues and public spaces only to vaccinated individuals. Similar protests were held across France this weekend; police estimated that 160,000 people demonstrated around the country.
Demonstrations were also held in Italy, where a new “green pass” mandating vaccinations for indoor diners is coming into effect.
In London, at least six people were arrested and four police officers injured Saturday during demonstrations against some coronavirus restrictions there even as the country reopens. In a speech at an event in London’s Trafalgar Square, former nurse and anti-vaccine activist Kate Shemirani falsely called the vaccines “satanic.”
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The Washington Post’s William Booth contributed to this report.