News Coronavirus Strike force to hunt down Sydney’s anti-lockdown protesters amid ‘super spreader’ fears

Strike force to hunt down Sydney’s anti-lockdown protesters amid ‘super spreader’ fears

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Detectives are poring over CCTV and social media footage of an anti-lockdown protest in Sydney to identify the “halfwits” and “boofheads” that Police Minister David Elliott warned may have created a super spreader event.

As Sydney recorded its highest daily infections of the outbreak on Saturday, about 3500 so-called ‘Freedom’ protesters brought the CBD to a standstill for hours.

Several officers were injured as 57 people were arrested and about 90 fines issued as the rally which was promoted as being peaceful took violent turns.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Saturday evening condemned the behaviour and warned that the “full force of the law will be brought against anyone who engages in this type of illegal activity.”

“I am utterly disgusted by the illegal protesters in the city today whose selfish actions have compromised the safety of all of us,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“The protesters have shown utter contempt for their fellow citizens who are currently doing it tough.

“I want to thank the brave police officers who put their own safety on the line to ensure the protest action ceased.”

Thousands also gathered in Melbourne for what was believed to be its largest anti-lockdown demonstration so far in which flares were set off outside Parliament.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott said about 3500 people were at the rally. Photo: AAP

NSW’s police minister vowed to hunt down the “selfish boofheads” who attended Sydney’s illegal gathering, saying he wanted to see thousands punished for the rally.

“Just because people think they escaped a charge for attending today they should be aware that a police task force has been established and will forensically investigate all the CCTV and social media collected over the course of the afternoon’s protest,” said Mr Elliott.

Mr Elliott said he would be surprised if the rally did not increase transmission of the virus, describing it as the best case study of a super-spreading event he’s seen since the pandemic began.

“It would have only taken one person with COVID to turn today’s event into a super spreader (event). Decent minded Australians have every right to feel infuriated for such selfish behaviour.”

“This selfish, inappropriate behaviour is what is going to keep this city in a lockdown.”

About 57 people were arrested. Photo: AAP

A team of more than 20 detectives is now working urgently to identify more of the protesters and either charge or fine them.

Tensions are high in NSW as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise despite a lockdown of Greater Sydney entering its fifth week.

The NSW government is frustrated with rising case numbers which have persisted despite gradually more severe restrictions being imposed.

The latest escalation has prevented all but the most essential workers in Cumberland and Blacktown local government areas leaving those areas.

A paint-splattered police officer at Sydney’s protest. Photo: Getty

Ms Berejiklian has described vaccination as the way out of the outbreak, but her plea for other states and territories to hand over their Pfizer stocks has so far been rebuffed.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said another 200,000 Pfizer doses would arrive in NSW this week.

“The Commonwealth will be providing a sustained weekly increase of an additional 20,000 doses to general practices and an additional 20,000 doses to NSW government clinics on an ongoing basis,” he said.

The prime minister’s office said the extra vaccines were in addition to 150,000 more Pfizer doses already sent to NSW.

Tensions were high at the ‘peaceful’ protest. Photo: AAP

Ms Berejiklian has said she would soon provide the state with a roadmap for the next few months until the state reached a good proportion of its citizens vaccinated.

Three regional NSW local government areas in the state’s central west are also under stay-at-home orders until at least July 28.

Victoria eyes end of lockdown

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says Victoria is “on track” for a planned easing of COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday but it’s not something authorities can yet confirm.

The state recorded 12 new locally acquired cases on Saturday. Ten of them were in quarantine throughout their entire infectious period and all are linked to current outbreaks.

The numbers continue an encouraging downward trend in new diagnoses after 14 cases were reported on Friday and 26 on Thursday.

Professor Sutton introduced a new travel designation for NSW late on Friday, making the whole state an “extreme risk zone” backdated to July 9.

This makes it difficult for Victorians in NSW to come home unless they get a rare exemption or have a Specified Worker Permit.

Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protest was dispersed by police. Photo: AAP

Meanwhile Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protest was brought to a violent end as police used pepper spray to clear the crowd.

Thousands of protesters of all ages chanted “freedom” as they gathered outside Victoria’s Parliament House.

“We can all argue the merits or otherwise of various approaches to managing transmission, but let’s not pretend that ‘marching for freedom’ will actually deliver the precious freedom that we all need and desire. end/,” Prof Sutton later tweeted.

—with AAP