COVID-19: Australia deploys thousands of police officers to counter anti-lockdown protests in Sydney and Melbourne

Thousands of police officers have been deployed to counter anti-lockdown protests in Sydney and Melbourne, as Australia grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Australia recorded 1,882 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, along with seven deaths in the latest 24-hour period, fuelled by an outbreak of the Delta variant that has been causing problems since mid-June.

The country had been widely praised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, but Sydney; Melbourne; and the capital city, Canberra, all find themselves under strict lockdown.

Officers used pepper spray in an attempt to disperse a gathering of around 1,000 demonstrators in Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city.

Protesters scuffled with officers in the suburb of Richmond, where the protest was located, after a last-minute change intended to evade the authorities.

About 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne and 235 have been arrested.

Most of the protesters did not wear face masks, defying regulations.

Around 2,000 police officers were deployed at road checkpoints and barricades in an attempt to stop the rally from going ahead.

The city entered its sixth lockdown on 5 August.

Along with police officers in Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol and detectives were deployed to counter the protests.

Thirty-two people have been arrested there.

New South Wales reported 1,331 cases on Saturday, mostly in the state capital Sydney, along with six deaths, while Victoria reported 535 new cases, mostly in the capital state Melbourne, along with one death.

Australia's lockdown restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales, and Canberra will remain until at least 70% of people aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

Based on the current rate of inoculations, that could take until late October or early November.

While the vast majority of Australians support vaccinations and the restrictions, there have been protests against the country's management of the pandemic.

The vaccine rollout has been slow compared to other developed nations, not helped by many Australians having been made reluctant to get the AstraZeneca jab due to conflicting government advice.

Australia has seen just under 85,000 coronavirus cases and 1,145 deaths since the pandemic began.

On Friday, police in New South Wales issued a warning against the protests, cautioning that participants could expect punishments ranging from a fine to being arrested.

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