Around 20 unmasked protesters have been arrested in Melbourne and another three in Sydney as hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered across the country.
In Melbourne, up to 300 people gathered at the city’s Shrine of Remembrance on Saturday to demonstrate against Stage 4 restrictions, which include mandatory face masks and a nightly curfew.
A man who punched a police officer was among those arrested at the scene, an AAP photographer said. Police on horses pushed the demonstrators towards the shrine’s steps, before protesters dispersed.
A protester is arrested by Victoria Police officers outside of the Shrine of Remembrance.
Some of the protesters carried signs with anti-government sentiments and at one stage sung the Australian national anthem.
Meanwhile, a NSW Police spokesperson said three protesters had been arrested at an unauthorised rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park; two men, aged 44 and 54, for allegedly assaulting police and a woman for failing to comply with a move-on direction.
A further 18 people were issued with penalty infringement notices, and a 16-year-old boy was given a youth caution for not complying with a public health order.
Another anti-lockdown protest was also held in Byron Bay on the NSW far-north coast on Saturday, while a second demonstration in Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west, was ongoing.
The protest in Melbourne followed the arrest of five people in connection to the planned events.
A police spokesperson said four men had been arrested in relation to the Freedom Day rally following the well-publicised arrest of a pregnant Ballarat woman over allegations of a separate rally also planned for Saturday.
The woman posted a video the arrest, featuring herself in handcuffs, to social media on Wednesday.
“The tinfoil hat-wearing brigade are alive and well in our community,” Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said a week earlier, warning Victorians against attending the protests.
Victoria Police arrest and put a face mask on a protester outside of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
“They’re taking every opportunity to leverage the current situation to serve their own ridiculous notions about so-called ‘sovereign citizens’, about constitutional issues and about how 5G is going to kill your grandkids.
Protesters were gathering as Mr Andrews delivered his daily coronavirus update, announcing a further 76 coronavirus cases and 11 fatalities.
Mr Andrews issued a general message to the protesters, telling them: “It’s not smart, it is not safe, it is not lawful, in fact, it’s absolutely selfish to be out there protesting”.
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“The only fight we should be engaged in is against the virus.”
The state’s death toll has now soared past 600 to 661, pushing the national figure to 748.
Mr Andrews will on Sunday announce separate pathways for how and when Melbourne and regional Victoria will come out of respective stage four and three lockdowns.
Victoria Police declined to comment while the operation was ongoing.
Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.
Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.