Hundreds arrested, massive fines during Australian lockdown protests

(Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

In Australia, the city of Sydney has been on lockdown since the middle of June. Melbourne was locked down at the beginning of this month. A couple of weeks ago we looked into some protests that were starting to spring up (again) in response to the country’s harsh limitations while there were relatively few new COVID cases. Most of those were comprised of a few dozen people at scattered locations, with most being dispersed when the police showed up and started rousting the crowds. But two weeks later, there is no end to the heavily restrictive lockdowns in sight, and the protests have swelled into the thousands, being organized in several cities. The police response has ramped up in response. The latest round of unrest resulted in hundreds of arrests and even larger numbers of significant fines being imposed on people. (Associated Press)

More than 250 people who were protesting coronavirus lockdowns in Australia were arrested Saturday and many faced fines for defying health orders, authorities said.

At least seven police officers were treated for injuries after skirmishes broke out at some of the protests, which took place in multiple cities nationwide. The largest and most violent protest was in Melbourne. Many were organized by people in encrypted online chat groups.

Sydney has been in lockdown for two months, while Melbourne and the capital, Canberra, went into lockdown earlier this month. Under the rules of the lockdown, people are mostly confined to their homes and have limits placed on their social interactions.

While the injuries to police officers are disturbing, it’s a clear sign that people are no longer simply backing down and going home when the cops show up. Some of them are fighting back. More than 250 people preferred to go to jail rather than simply acquiescing. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the lockdown protests have boiled over. The number of protesters in Sydney back in the middle of July swelled into the thousands (including a guy who punched a police horse) before tapering back off for a while.

The fines being handed out are nothing to sneeze at either. In Victoria State, more than 200 people were issued fines of more than 5,400 Australian dollars ($3,850 American). The jails that the protesters are being sent to are also reportedly not providing much in the way of space for social distancing in some cases.

Once again, it’s worth asking how proportionate this response by the government is. The state of New South Wales, where Sydney is located, reported 825 new infections. While that clearly shows that the virus is still out there, we’re talking about that many people in a state with a population of more than 8 million. Other states and cities are reporting similar numbers. Those sorts of stats probably merit doing some increased testing and contact tracing, but the Aussies are imposing lockdown measures that are nearly as draconian as the ones in New Zealand.

The Australians are being told that they can be arrested for going window shopping… by themselves. (Only essential shopping is allowed.) You’re supposed to avoid speaking to your neighbors. People are obviously past the point of simply feeling frustrated and anger is translating into violence at some of these events.

Unfortunately, there is little chance of slowing the spread of the virus significantly if the current surge actually builds into a storm. Australia’s vaccination rate thus far remains pitifully low. But the government is going to have to come up with some sort of plan to deal with all of the resistance to these lockdown measures. There’s still room for these protests to become even more ugly.

I’ll leave you with some coverage of yesterday’s protests from ABC News Australia. The cops are taking a military approach to the situation that’s above and beyond even some of the American police responses we’ve seen.

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