Thousands of protesters have swarmed central Sydney to protest against the ongoing Covid lockdown in the nation's largest city.
Protesters clashed with police as things turned ugly at times on Saturday as demonstrators defied police demands.
Thousands of people turned out despite the protest not gaining official permission.
NSW police said an application for the protest was rejected and the large unauthorised protest ultimately went ahead without police consent.
Many protesters – who were not wearing masks – yelled and heckled onlookers as they marched down Sydney's Broadway Road, disrupting traffic, as they converged on the central business district.
The Sydney anti-lockdown protest is a superspreader event in the making. If the sheer number of people wasn't enough, everyone is also screaming at the top of their lungs (without masks) and potentially spreading droplets all over the damn place pic.twitter.com/WI2R5Ql4kE
— Zac Crellin (@zacrellin) July 24, 2021
The protest forced a number of streets to be closed.
One particularly belligerent demonstrator brandished a sign which said: "I believe in Jesus, not the vaccine".
Other protesters carried signs calling for "freedom" or pushing conspiratorial ideas about the pandemic.
Dozens of police, some on horseback, tried to disperse the angry crowd in the CBD while scuffles between police and protesters were filmed breaking out during the march.
Some protesters were seen chanting "New South Wales!" as they cornered a group of police officers on horseback.
The fiery crowd cheered after one demonstrator threw a projectile at a female officer on horseback which struck her in the head.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott said a special taskforce will work to identify anybody at the protest and potentially pursue charges.
He said 57 people were arrested on Saturday, while more than 90 attendees were given infringement notices.
Appalling behaviour by the “ Freedom”
— Max Uechtritz (@plesbilongmi) July 24, 2021
One onlooker, who wished to remain anonymous because they are a public servant and are not authorised to make political statements, slammed the protest as "just outrageous".
"A real democracy is where you state your opinion but you still follow the rules," he told Yahoo News Australia.
"These are all right-wingers .... I don't know what they are but quoting Jesus is always a sign that you're going off track."
His friend, who was also caught up in the protest, said public health measures must take precedence.
"No one is saying they need to have the vaccine, it's a personal choice, but all these rules about masks in public spaces and common areas, I'm sorry it's just one more rule of living in society," he said.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, crowds of people are attending a large and unauthorised anti-lockdown protest. pic.twitter.com/asW5K1tuIE
— Josh Bavas (@JoshBavas) July 24, 2021
NSW recorded its worst day yet during the ongoing Delta outbreak with 163 locally acquired new cases announced on Saturday morning.
"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," NSW police said in a statement.
"The priority for NSW Police is always the safety of the wider community.
"Officers from across Central Metropolitan Region, assisted by specialist resources, were deployed."
At least a thousand protesters also gathered in Melbourne's CBD on Saturday to protest the city's fifth lockdown during the pandemic.
Victorian MP Tim Watts described it as "Stupidity and selfishness on the march".
Stupidity and selfishness on the march.
Thankfully, the OVERWHELMING majority of people in our community understand that the only way we will get through this public health crisis is by listening to the experts and doing our bit to stop the spread of this virus. https://t.co/Tz4FC9yk2u
— Tim Watts MP (@TimWattsMP) July 24, 2021
With reporting by Marcus Higgins.
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