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Melbourne anti-lockdown protests as daily Covid-19 cases hit

SYDNEY

Police in Melbourne prepared for the fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday (Sept 23) and a vaccination hub within the city closed after protesters allegedly abused staff, while Covid-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record.

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets within the city of 5 million since officials earlier in the week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.

A vaccination centre at the Melbourne town hall would be shut until Monday, operator health said on Thursday, after several of its staff were physically and verbally abused on their way to work.

“Why would you abuse, as I’m told, why would you spit on people who do that sort of work?” Premier Daniel Andrews said during a media briefing in Melbourne, the state capital. “That is ugly, that’s uncalled for.”

Police officers in central Melbourne on Thursday were checking people’s reasons for being outside, footage on social media showed, as authorities tried to stop another protest in Australia’s second-largest city after more than 200 arrests on Wednesday.

Police used capsicum spray and foam baton rounds on Wednesday to disperse protesters who gathered at a memorial honouring war service, prompting veteran groups and some politicians to speak out against using the shrine as a rallying point.

“It dishonoured those Australians who have made the last word sacrifice and that I would hope any and everyone who was engaged therein disgraceful behaviour should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Washington DC on Thursday.

Police and union officials have said extremist and far-right groups have joined the demonstrations.

As authorities brace for more protests, Victoria reported 766 new locally acquired cases, topping its previous pandemic daily high of 725 hits on Aug 5, 2020, and 4 new deaths.

Neighbouring New South Wales reported 1,063 new infections, up from 1,035 each day earlier, and 6 new deaths.

Australia is fighting the 3rd wave of infections from an epidemic of the Delta variant in its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and 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 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, which is expected next month.

Some 55.5 per cent of people aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated in New South Wales and about 45 per cent in Victoria.

Australia’s total infections topped 90,000, with some 60,000 recorded since mid-June when the first Delta case was detected in Sydney.

Total deaths are just below 1,200, but still below in many other comparable countries.

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