By PETER HACKNEY
Thousands of mask-free protestors chanting “freedom” and “I do not consent” descended on Victoria Park, Broadway from 11am today and marched through Haymarket into the CBD to vent their anger against the continuing Greater Sydney lockdown and rules requiring face masks.
The wild protest, attended by up to 15,000 people according to some estimates, saw access to Town Hall Station limited at times. At one point, several protestors climbed onto the roof of an entry awning to Town Hall Station on George Street, while others climbed onto the awning of Woolworths Town Hall.
Placards criticising Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian were seen throughout the protest, during which multiple flares were lit, while the Australian flag was set on fire in at least once instance.
Anti-vaccination messages were prominent among the crowd.
The Sentinel understands some minor damage to street furniture and property has been sustained.
Mounted police, pepper spray used
Hundreds of NSW police officers were deployed to contain the protestors, including officers on horseback, while pepper spray was also used at times.
ABC News reported that items were thrown at officers on horseback in George Street, including plastic bottles and potted plants. This afternoon, NSW Police shared images of a police officer who was spattered in paint thrown by protestors.
Early this afternoon, the majority of the protestors began marching back to Victoria Park, after police at Sydney Town Hall were largely successful in preventing them from going further into the city centre – although some protestors made it through as far as the intersection of George and King Streets.
In a statement, NSW Police said the unauthorised protest was “a breach of Covid-19 health orders” and that “a number of people” had been arrested.
“The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, however, today’s protest is in breach of the current Covid-19 Public Health Orders,” the statement read.
“The priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community.”
The protest – which remains ongoing at time of this story being filed (4pm), although considerably dispersed – was one of a number of similar rallies held across Australia today, including events in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Record number of cases
The rallies come as NSW recorded its worst day of the Delta outbreak since it began in mid-June, with 163 new infections in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, mostly in western and south-western Sydney.
Of the total of 71 people were infectious in the community, while the isolation status of 19 remains unclear.
Eighty-seven cases are linked to a known case, with the source of infection for 76 people still under investigation.
NSW Health said a record 93,000 Covid-19 tests were conducted.
Hazzard pleads for more Pfizer
NSW Premier Galdys Berejiklian did not front today’s daily Covid-19 press conference in Sydney. Instead, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard took the lead at the event, during which he pleaded with other states to send Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines to NSW, echoing comments made by the premier yesterday.
Criticising the lack of help from other states so far, he said: “Last time I looked, we were a Commonwealth, we worked together, so it disturbs me that it would seem that all we’ve ever done to work together has just seemingly been cast aside.
“It is with disappointment that I heard some of the responses from leaders from other states.”
Cracks forming with feds
Notably, the Health Minister also expressed frustration with the federal government, despite wearing the same political stripes as Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party administration.
Hazzard said he had found it “frustrating” communicating with the Morrison Government on vaccine supply and the delivery schedule of vaccine supplies.
“At the moment it is like fighting a war with both arms behind your back,” said Hazzard, who again pleaded with Sydneysiders to stay at home.
“Hear the message and stay at home,” he said.
“Don’t intermingle with members of other households. It will continue to cause grief in western and southwestern Sydney.
“Just please, stop doing it.”
Fears of worse to come
There are now fears that today’s protest in Sydney could exacerbate the growing Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys this morning warned that a protest in Sydney at this time could be “disastrous”.
“It’s not really the time for people to come together closely,” he said.
“NSW Police … will try and work with the organisers and the specific group leaders to make sure that they comply with the public health orders, and in fact we don’t get a situation where we end up with a spreading event in Sydney which would, of course, be disastrous.”
New restrictions come into effect
Today’s events occurred as new restrictions came into effect for the local government areas of Cumberland and Blacktown in western Sydney.
Residents in those LGAs can now only leave their council area if they are an authorised essential or emergency worker.
The rules largely mirror those previously enacted in the Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield and Liverpool LGAs.
Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.
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