Melbourne police fired rubber bullets into a crowd and arrested more than 200 people during the third straight day of anti-lockdown in Australia’s second-largest city, which is trying to maintain strict stay-at-home orders to control the spread of COVID-19.
Australia has adopted some of the strictest anti-COVID measures in the world in an attempt to reach “COVID-zero,” or a full period without a single COVID-19 infection. Construction workers, who are being cited as the first group to protest, are also now subject to mandatory vaccination.
CNN noted in late August that “until recently the strategy had been largely successful. To date, Australia has seen just 44,026 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 981 deaths. But several major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and the capital Canberra, are under lockdown as authorities struggle to contain an outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant.”
National authorities in Australia have since hinted at transitioning to an approach similar to how the country “manages other infections diseases,” particularly in light of massive protests that have occasionally turned violent, but the timeline for change remains uncertain.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that they will likely consider loosening restrictions once the country’s vaccination rate reaches “70% to 80%.”
Tuesday’s protest, the third protest in a row in Melbourne, was no exception. Two officers were injured as thousands, including many construction workers whose livelihoods have ground to a halt during the lockdown, took to the streets to demonstrate against the stay-at-home order.
I have never seen anything like this. Protestors now marching on the freeway. @theheraldsun pic.twitter.com/BGTUW30iyM
— Suzan Delibasic (@suzandelibasic) September 21, 2021
“Golf balls, batteries and bottles were among the items thrown at police during the protests held in defiance of stay-at-home orders after a two-week closure of building sites to rein in infections, which rose again in the state of Victoria,” Reuters reported. “Police are bracing for more demonstrations in the next few days, said deputy commissioner Ross Guenther.”
National Public Radio reports that the protests started with individuals in the trades, whose breakrooms have been shuttered over COVID-19 concerns.
“After the government closed down tearooms at work sites, some workers took their lunch breaks outside on Friday. They set up tables and plastic chairs in multiple intersections in central Melbourne, blocking roads and holding up traffic,” the outlet noted. “On Monday, people gathered outside the headquarters of the prominent Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union to protest the mandate, chanting and yelling before attempting to storm the building.”
Hundreds of construction workers outside their CFMEU union headquarters on Elizabeth Street, furious about mandatory vaccinations which start Friday for their industry. pic.twitter.com/60nB1awgJY
— Paul Dowsley (@paul_dowsley) September 20, 2021
Since Monday, other factions have reportedly joined the protests, including groups opposed to government vaccine mandates. Authorities speaking to media blamed “right-wing” agitators for the violence and suggested that the union-worker protests are being infiltrated by nefarious characters.
Still, The Guardian reported Tuesday that protesters chanted “f*** the jab” and “every day,” indicating a “promise to keep protesting daily until Melbourne’s COVID restrictions are lifted.”
This week’s protests are hardly the first in Australia. Authorities there have been struggling to contain unrest related to the country’s strict lockdown measures all summer. Back in July, there were similar thousand-person protests in Melbourne and also unrest in Syndey, according to the BBC, following a decision by the local government to extend lockdowns.