Arrests made at anti-lockdown protests

Demonstrations have taken place in Australian cities against tight restrictions imposed to tackle a rise in Covid cases.

Thousands gathered in Sydney, with smaller protests held in Melbourne and Brisbane.

People chanted “freedom” as they marched through the centre of Sydney. Officers said they had made 57 arrests.

Australian governments have re-imposed lockdowns across the country amid a surge in new infections.

The arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant has challenged the country’s previous strategy of border closures, quarantine programmes and snap lockdowns which helped keep cases low.

Vaccination rates remain the lowest among developed nations, with fewer than 14% of people jabbed.

On Saturday thousands of people marched to the centre of Sydney through the suburb of Haymarket.

New South Wales (NSW) health authority had moments ago declared the area a Covid hotspot, public broadcaster ABC News reports.

Some held placards reading “Drop your mask, raise your voice” and “Wake Up Australia”.

Protesters blocked roads and gathered outside Sydney’s town hall. One group threw bottles at mounted officers.

“The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, however, today’s protest is in breach of the current Covid-19 Public Health Orders,” a statement from the force read.

Smaller events also took place in Melbourne, where people lit flares outside Parliament House, and in Brisbane, at the Botanic Gardens.

Some 13 million Australians – about half its population – are now back in lockdown.

Sydney has now been under lockdown for four weeks, but continues to see cases rise.

NSW officials announced a record increase of 163 new infections on Saturday.

State health minister Brad Hazzard echoed calls by premier Gladys Berejiklian for other states to send extra vaccine doses to NSW.

“If it gets worse here in New South Wales, it could actually create massive problems for the whole country,” Mr Hazzard reportedly said.

“New South Wales is the gateway to the rest of Australia.”

According to Johns Hopkins University data, the country has overall recorded 32,594 cases and 916 deaths.