Update 1: Adds information about soldiers
Sydney, Australia, Jul 30 (EFE).- Australian authorities will deploy about 1,000 police officers on Saturday to an illegal anti-lockdown protest in Sydney amid fears it will escalate the Covid-19 outbreak in the city.
“Please don’t come into Sydney tomorrow to protest. If you do, you will be met by up to 1,000 police who will be ready to deal with you, whether that be via the health orders or other laws,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.
The call for the march, which violates stay-at-home orders and a ban on gatherings imposed by the NSW government in the wake of an outbreak of the Delta variant, follows last Saturday’s protest of thousands of people in Sydney and other cities.
The police arrested 60 people and imposed 200 fines during the Sydney march, in which there were also violent clashes between the authorities and protesters.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said she was aware of one new positive case who attempted to attend the protest but was stopped by police, and authorities were trying to locate the person to find out if they subsequently did attend.
However, she was “not aware of any cases that have arisen from the protests, but many people may choose not to disclose that.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned those planning to attend the march they could end up giving those they “love the most a death sentence.”
The authorities fear that tomorrow’s march could aggravate the health crisis in the state, where 170 infections were reported Friday, bringing the total to 2,980 cases and 13 deaths since the outbreak was detected in mid-June in Sydney.
The daily increase in Covid-19 cases has forced the NSW authorities to extend this week, for the third time, the lockdown of some 6 million residents of Greater Sydney and to further tighten restrictions in eight western and southwestern areas of the city.
Some 300 Australian soldiers will join, as of Monday, the police surveillance tasks to ensure compliance with the restrictions.
“It will be imminent that we see about 300 soldiers in the streets,” New South Wales Police Minister David Elliot said Friday on local television channel 9, referring to the military deployment he requested.
The soldiers, who will receive training during the weekend, will partner with the police to help in contact tracing, verify that people with Covid-19 or considered as close contacts remain in isolation or to monitor that limits are respected and travel restrictions.
“We have 2,000 doors that we have to knock on, so bringing in the soldiers makes a logistical sense,” Fuller said.
The soldiers will go unarmed and will not have the same functions as the New South Wales Police, which in addition to imposing fines and arresting, have special powers to close business, construction site or workplace.
Australia has accumulated just under 34,000 infections and 923 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Authorities are trying to accelerate its vaccination program, which has fully inoculated 17 percent of the population aged 16 years over, and is expected to conclude by Christmas, two months later than originally scheduled. EFE