Melbourne to halt public transport on weekend to stop lockdown protest

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A public transport ban will be in place and massive fines issued in an attempt to stop anti-lockdown protesters from storming Melbourne‘s CBD this weekend. 

Parts of Victoria’s transit network will shut from 8am to 2pm on Saturday to prevent thousands from gathering for a planned protest against the state’s Covid lockdown restrictions.    

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police would be patrolling trains to ensure commuters had legitimate reasons to disembark with a $5,500 fine for anyone caught unlawfully entering Melbourne CBD. 

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It comes as Ballarat is set to re-enter another lockdown after a surge of cases in regional Victoria, with fears a large number of people gathering could worsen the state’s outbreak.

‘The risk is so great from a convergence of thousands of people, as we saw recently,’ Mr Patton told the Herald Sun.

More than 2,000 officers will be on hand with 20 police stations to be closed to the public as law enforcement are pulled away to assist in the major operation. 

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‘We realise people are fatigued and this is a significant step for us. We didn’t take this lightly but given the circumstances and where we are with Covid, we cannot afford to allow transmission to occur,’ he said.

‘We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.’ 

Trams will cease operation entirely, while buses will bypass the city and trains will be barred completely from entering the CBD between the hours of 8am and 2pm. 

Ubers and taxis will be slapped with travel restrictions preventing them from entering the city unless passenger’s have an essential reason. 

A hard border surrounding the CBD will be established with barricades, traffic blocks and an increased police presence to block protesters from unlawfully gathering.

Essential workers who are required to travel that day will still be able to enter the city but will need to carry their workers permit on them to gain access. 

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Mr Patton warned there would be a heavy police presence and urged people not to bother turning up in a bid to stop protesters and avoid ‘any confrontation at all’. 

The heavy-handed measures come just weeks after the Chief Commissioner labelled the August 21 protests as ‘one of the most violent the city has seen in 20 years’. 

Officers had no choice but to use non-lethal weapons to defend themselves from an angry mob that came armed and appeared intent on attacking them.

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Tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets were used on demonstrators in Melbourne and more than 200 people were arrested after the anti-lockdown rally descended into a riot.

More than 4,000 people turned up to the ‘freedom rally’ despite Premier Dan Andrews warning the state was on the verge of a Covid catastrophe.

The protests resulted in six officers being hospitalised – including two with suspected broken noses, one with a broken thumb and the others with concussions.

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Mr Patton said he hoped officers would not have to use crowd control equipment such as capsicum spray and rubber bullets this Saturday but assured all police had nonlethal options on hand to prevent any violence. 

Fears of a super-spreading event are rife as Victoria recorded 423 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 4,038. 

Five cases were in regional areas of Ballarat and Geelong, plunging the former into a snap seven-day lockdown after recording four new Covid cases as health officials warn infections are expected to rise.

Premier Dan Andrews announced Ballarat residents will be under the same restrictions as Melbourne – except for the curfew – from 11.59pm Wednesday as the state’s Delta outbreak spreads into the Central Highlands.  

Victorians have already spent an agonising 226 days in lockdown since the pandemic began with fears it could continue well into Christmas. 

Residents have lived through the toughest lockdown measures in Australia, with other states choosing not to close local playgrounds and skate parks or impose curfews.

Other draconian rules such as only one parent accompanying children to playgrounds and eating being prohibited at the community venues have only been implemented in Victoria. 

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