Defying a statewide stay-at-home order and a worsening local outbreak driven by the Delta variant, 3,500 mostly maskless protesters clashed with police officers on Saturday in downtown Sydney, Australia’s largest city.
The protest, against the city’s monthlong lockdown, raised fears of adding to Sydney’s caseload.
“You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to work out that if this is a superspreader event, we can forget about lifting restrictions next week,” David Elliott, the minister for police and emergency services of New South Wales, told reporters.
Officers arrested 57 people with more under investigation, facing hefty fines and penalties.
There were also protests in Melbourne and Adelaide, which are under lockdowns, and in Brisbane, where there are no restrictions. The police arrested six people in Melbourne, including one for assaulting an emergency worker, and fined dozens of others for failing to comply with orders to stay within five kilometers of home.
The health minister of New South Wales, where Sydney is located, stressed the state’s urgent need for additional vaccine supply, adding that with so many people flouting the stay-at-home orders it was the only way to stop transmission of the virus.
“At the moment, it’s like fighting a war with both arms behind your back,” the minister, Brad Hazzard, told reporters.
The state reported 163 locally transmitted virus cases on Saturday, up from 136 the previous day, with 37 patients in intensive care.
Mr. Hazzard renewed a call for other states to share their supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine so that younger people in Sydney’s hot spots could be vaccinated, reminding neighboring states about the help New South Wales had provided during their crises, like wildfires and flooding, and warning that if the state’s outbreak worsened, it “could actually create massive problems for the whole country.”
Australia’s federal government said on Saturday that it would send 50,000 more vaccine doses to Sydney.
Despite its struggle with increases in infections, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of about 32,600 cases and 916 deaths. But the country’s overall cases have risen by 192 percent over the past two weeks, with most cases clustered in Sydney, and only 12 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.