Police helicopters hovered overhead blaring sirens & broadcasting: ‘This is public health order — do not break rules — you will be found & fines issued.’
Australian officials have sent in soldiers to enforce lockdown in Sydney as the country grapples rising infection rates with just 17% of adults vaccinated.
Ministers had tried to tackle the pandemic with a zero Covid strategy – a bid to eliminate all cases through isolation and closed borders – but concerns are growing over the virus’ continued prevalence.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison held out hope of better times with a four-stage plan back to freedom but said 80% of adults would have to be vaccinated before the border can begin to open.
Sydney’s five million people are under a strict stay-at-home order because of a worrying surge of nearly 3,000 infections since the middle of June.
Authorities have this week outlined even tighter restrictions for some worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.
From Monday, some 300 army personnel will help police go door to door to ensure people who have tested positive are isolating.
New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller told a news conference: ‘The sheer volume of increase over the last week, the level of compliance has gone from hundreds into thousands.’
The military personnel will not be armed and will be under police command, he said.
Australia had handled the coronavirus crisis much better than many other developed countries, with just over 34,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths.
But it has been achieved that largely by sealing its border to all but a trickle of people since the pandemic began.
A vaccination drive that got off to a slow start because of a shortage of doses – only 17% of adults are fully vaccinated – coupled with the emergence of the virulent Delta variant have triggered new clusters, shaken public confidence and stirred anger.
In the city’s western suburbs angry residents saw police helicopters hovering overhead while blaring sirens and broadcasting: ‘This is public health order — do not break rules — you will be found and fines issued.’
With police scattered in seemingly every direction across the Harbour City, only eight arrests were made – a far cry from the chaotic scenes in the CBD seven days ago.
‘This is not the Australia I emigrated to,’ a woman from North Parramatta told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Cannot believe it. Are they checking we are wearing masks in our gardens? Talk about being treated as suspected criminals.‘
Lines of patrol cars stretching hundreds of metres were pictured parked on Moore Park Road near the Sydney Cricket Ground as early as 7am on Saturday as police prepared for the operation.
A wide exclusion zone was established stretching from Lilyfield in the inner-west, to Milsons Point on the north shore, Edgecliff in the east and Zetland in the south as police stopped anyone entering the city to ask them their reason for travel.
The police operation follows an announcement police would be cracking down on lockdown rule-breakers from Friday with fines lifted to $500 for not wearing a mask and restriction tightened further for eight LGAs in south-west and Western Sydney.
The huge police presence sparked a mixed reactions among the public, with most commending the police effort but some saying it was an over-the-top reaction.
‘There’s no protest I don’t know what they think they are ready for,’ one person said.
‘Good on them, backing the police all the way! All the troublemakers from last weekend are back in hiding,’ argued a third.
More than 3,500 people attended the demonstration last week, with officials warning Sydneysiders not to turn up again in the lead up to this weekend.
Police established a command centre at Hyde Park in the centre of the city to direct operations – with foot patrols, mounted police officers and patrol cars flooding the CBD.
Authorities had expected a protest after monitoring online activity, but knew the numbers would not be anywhere near as big as the one that shook Sydney on Saturday seven days ago.
Some 60 protesters have been charged and 200 people fined over last Saturday’s demonstration.
There were as many as 80 officers at Town Hall station as they look to stop anyone travelling into the city, particularly from Sydney’s west and south-western suburbs.
Another large police presence was stationed at Hyde Park, with dozens more officers combing the CBD checking license plates of cars and what people are doing.
The state’s deputy commissioner Mal Lanyon told the Today show: ‘Quite simply, the message is to stay at home’.
‘The intent of the public health order is very clear, and that is to restrict movement and gathering to stop the spread of this virus.
‘There will be a significant police presence today, which will ensure compliance with the public health orders.
‘If you wish to come into town for the purpose of a protest, we will take appropriate action. Whether that’s by infringement notice or you may be arrested and charged, don’t come into town for that purpose.’
He added in the states Saturday morning coronavirus press conference that enforcement were ready for anyone thinking of congregating in Sydney to protest.
‘I began by sending one final message to anyone who is attending to go into the city to engage in protest liberty. Do not do it,’ he said.
‘Our policing operation has been in place since early this morning up to 1000 police officers including a range of specialist resources on the ground already so don’t go into the city to protest.
Strikeforce season investigators have been in continuing investigations into the events of last week’s protests with 85 people charged to this date. Over 300 infringement notices have been issued and last night a 49-year-old man from the Central Coast was charged with criminal offences relating to the incitement of last week’s protest online.
‘In terms of the wider compliance operation, the last 24 hours, 384 infringements have been issued, 41 persons charged with the offences related to breaches of public health orders.
‘Police responded to almost 1500 Covid-related jobs, 885 of those were CrimeStoppers calls. Our compliance operation will be ongoing and we have spoken over the last few days about it being ramped up considerably.
Taxi, rideshare and passenger services are prohibited from conveying passengers to Sydney’s CBD between 9am and 3pm today (Saturday 31 July 2021), under a prohibition notice issued by NSW Police.
The notice was issued to seven transport providers in response to planned unlawful protest activity at risk of seriously comprising the public’s safety.
Taxi and rideshare companies face fines of up to half a million dollars if they take passengers into Sydney’s CBD.
Companies who fail to comply with the notice risk a maximum penalty of $500,000, and individuals could be fined up to $100,000, NSW Police say.
Central Metropolitan Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell, said more than 1000 officers will be ensuring Greater Sydney remains free from illegal protest activity.
‘A pandemic is not the time to protest and this prohibition notice is just one of the tools police have implemented today to ensure the safety of the community,’ Assistant Commissioner Thurtell said.
‘These restrictions have been put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect those most vulnerable in our communities from harm.
‘Essential workers, or anyone that requires medical treatment, will be able to make their way to their destinations.
‘I’d like to thank the affected transport companies in advance for their compliance.
More than 300 ADF soldiers will meanwhile be deployed across Greater Sydney from Monday to help police enforce the lockdown, which was been extended for four weeks until at least August 28.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged all adults to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
A new, walk-in AstraZeneca vaccination clinic at Bankstown Sports Club opens for its first full day on Saturday.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott labelled those in the rallies as ‘boofheads’ and said 90 had been fined across the state with many more arrests expected.
‘What we saw today was 3,500 very selfish boofheads – people that thought the law didn’t apply to them,’ he said.
‘If we don’t see a [Covid] spike in the areas these protesters came from in the next week I’ll be very, very surprised.
‘It was just a whole lot of halfwits. There is no doubt in my mind that at least one individual there today had Covid, it is statistically impossible for us not to consider that.’
New South Wales has recorded 210 locally acquired Covid cases overnight with at least 33 in the community while infectious.
Speaking during Saturday’s NSW update Health Minister Brad Hazzard said by far the majority of cases were located in south-west and Western Sydney.
The city’s south-west accounted for a mammoth 81 positive cases in the last 24 hours, while 72 cases were acquired in Western Sydney.
Mr. Hazzard repeated calls for locals not to visit other households saying this was how a large portion of cases were being transmitted.