Anti-vax protesters have forced the closure of two crucial vaccine hubs in central Melbourne, after reportedly spitting on and abusing staff.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said nurses administering COVID vaccines to vulnerable Melburnians at the town hall in the CBD were spat on by “people pretending to be legitimate protesters” on Wednesday.
“They are vaccinating people, for heaven’s sake,” he said.
“Why would you spit on people who are doing that sort of work? That is ugly. That is uncalled for.”
Victoria Police are investigating the incident. The two clinics – which aim to vaccinate homeless and other vulnerable people – in the Melbourne CBD have been closed until at least Monday.
It came as Victoria posted a record number of coronavirus cases for the pandemic, with 766 new infections as well as four deaths.
They were three men and woman aged from their 70s to their 90s. Twenty people have now died in Victoria’s current Delta outbreak.
Thursday’s daily case tally is not only a high for the current outbreak but tops last year’s second wave peak of 686, which had been revised down from the original count of 725 cases due to duplications. It was recorded on August 5, 2020.
The state’s COVID commander, Jeroen Weimar, said Thursday’s numbers were challenging.
“It redoubles our focus on doing everything we all can as a community to slow down the rate of community transmission over the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
More than 60 per cent of the latest cases were in Melbourne’s north, including 264 in the COVID-hit local government area of Hume.
“That is a 60 per cent increase in the last four days. We are doing a lot of work with the community in Hume to see what we can do to support them and reduce the rate of transmission,” Mr Weimar said.
A further 22 per cent are in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
As of Thursday, 75.2 per cent of Victorians 16 and over were partially vaccinated against the virus, while 45.6 per cent of eligible residents were fully vaccinated.
Elsewhere, the city was braced for its fourth day of protests on Thursday after wild scenes this week. A mob of 300 to 400 again swarmed the Victorian capital on Wednesday, despite stay-at-home orders and repeated warnings from authorities.
In the afternoon, there was a stand-off with police after hundreds marched through the city to the Shrine of Remembrance.
After about three hours, police riot squad members appeared to fire tear gas, rubber bullets and other non-lethal rounds when the mob became increasingly hostile and refused to leave.
Two officers suffered head injuries after bottles were thrown at them.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Guenther said 215 arrests were made throughout Thursday, and condemned the occupation of the shine for political purposes.
“It was completely disrespectful that the crowd ended up at the shrine, which is such hallowed ground in this great city,” he said on Wednesday.
RSL Victoria said the mob had disrespected the sanctity of the sacred site, while Shrine of Remembrance chief executive Dean Lee told the ABC on Thursday “there has been urination on the walls of the Shrine of Remembrance, which is disgusting”.
Mr Lee said Thursday was a “troubling day” for the veteran community.
“We know what the Shrine means to the veteran community of Victoria and Australia and to see it disrespected in that way was very difficult for all of us,” he said.
“Those that seek to divide us in a time of crisis are not doing themselves any favours and not representing the best values of what it is to be Australian.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the gathering at the shrine, telling reporters in Washington “the conduct was disgraceful”.
“This is a sacred place, it’s not a place of protest. It was disrespectful and it dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
“I would hope any and all who were engaged in that disgraceful behaviour, would be ashamed.”
The protests initially began in opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the construction sector and the closure of building site tea rooms, but have since turned into wider unrest.