Melbourne police fire pepper balls, pellets to break up Covid protest

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE : The police in Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, fired pepper balls and rubber pellets yesterday to disperse about 2,000 protesters who defied stay-at-home orders to damage property, block a busy freeway and injure three officers, leading to more than 60 arrests.

It was the second day of demonstrations in the Australian city after the authorities shut construction sites for two weeks, saying workers' frequent movement was spreading the coronavirus.

During eight hours of protests in downtown Melbourne, which is already under a lockdown, demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and flares at the police, as television and social media showed video of marchers chanting and attacking police cars, surrounded by mounted police and officers in riot gear.

"This was a very, very large and very, very angry group," Mr Shane Patton, police commissioner in the south-eastern state of Victoria, told reporters, adding the protest breached Covid-19 lockdown rules.

Protesters included not only construction workers but opponents of mandatory vaccinations and Victoria's extended lockdown.

The halt in building activities followed a protest against a vaccine mandate that turned violent on Monday.

The state requires all construction workers to receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of this week.

"The public health team was left with no choice but to hit the pause button and continue to work with the sector over the next two weeks to improve compliance," state Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.

Until now, 53 per cent have been fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, while in Victoria the coverage is 44 per cent. - REUTERS