Melbourne Braces For More Protests Amid Record COVID Cases

Police in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne are preparing for the fourth day of anti-lockdown protests after more than 200 arrests a day earlier, as COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record.

According to the Herald Sun newspaper, vaccination centres have been told to be on high alert on Thursday after being identified as potential targets by the protesters, who are also angry about the state’s vaccination mandate.

The Age newspaper reported that some of the vaccination centres had been ordered to close until next Monday due to threats from protesters. At a news conference on Thursday, Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews praised police for the handling of the protesters a day earlier.

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in the city of five million since officials earlier this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.

Police used pepper spray and foam-baton rounds on Wednesday to disperse protesters who gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance war memorial, prompting veteran groups and some politicians to speak out against using the site as a rallying point.

“It dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were engaged in that disgraceful behaviour should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday from Washington, DC, where he is visiting.

As authorities brace for more protests, Victoria reported 766 new locally acquired cases, exceeding a previous pandemic daily high of 725 on August 5 last year. It also reported four more people had died from the coronavirus.

In the neighbouring state of New South Wales (NSW), at least 1,063 cases were reported on Thursday, with an additional six deaths according to The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. A new COVID-19 cluster was also reported at a North Sydney hospital.

Amid the continuing rise in cases, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state was “really doing a very good job” in its vaccination effort. The percentage of people aged 16 and older who have had their first dose has already reached 83.6 per cent, with 55.5 percent fully vaccinated.

“That is quite remarkable and I want to thank everybody who is going out and doing their bit for the community and for themselves and getting vaccinated,” Hazzard told the newspaper. About 45 percent are fully vaccinated in Victoria.

Australia is fighting a third wave of infections from an outbreak of the Delta variant in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as its capital Canberra, forcing nearly half the country’s 25 million people into strict stay-at-home restrictions.

Officials have promised to ease lockdown rules once 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, which is expected next month.

Some 60,000 cases have been recorded since mid-June when the first Delta case was detected in Sydney. Total deaths are just below 1,200, but still lower than in many other wealthy countries.

 AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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