Coronavirus: Melbourne police arrest 74 anti-lockdown protesters

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Protests in MelbourneImage source, EPA
Image caption,
About 250 people attended the illegal protests

More than 70 people have been arrested in Melbourne, Australia, for flouting the state's stay-at-home orders to attend an anti-lockdown protest.

About 250 people went to the illegal protest - the second one this weekend.

Police said "many protestors were aggressive and threatened violence towards officers".

The demonstrations come as the state of Victoria prepares to ease its lockdown restrictions, which have been in place since early July.

Victoria has been the epicentre of Australia's Covid-19 outbreak, accounting for 75% of cases and 90% of deaths.

The state has extended a state of disaster for another month, giving the police extra powers to enforce public health orders.

Victoria's State Parliament building has also been forced to close "until further notice" after a security guard tested positive for the virus.

Australia has had a total of 26,600 confirmed cases and more than 800 deaths from the virus.

What happened at the protests?

The two demonstrations were promoted in social media groups dedicated to sharing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, about 250 people gathered at the central Queen Victoria market, and demanded an end to lockdown in the city.

They were met with a heavy police presence, and clashes broke out.

Police said they arrested 74 people at Sunday's protest, and fined 176 others. On Saturday they had arrested 14 people.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Police said many protesters were "aggressive and threatened violence"

The force added in a statement that a man believed to be a "primary agitator" is facing charges of incitement, while another was charged with assaulting police.

Last weekend, protesters - including some conspiracy theorists - held "Freedom Day" events across Australia to rally against what they labelled the country's "overblown" response to the pandemic.

While delivering his coronavirus update on Saturday, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said the protesters were "selfish, unlawful and wrong".

"It's not smart, it's not right ... it's not the time for protest," he said. "No one has the right to make choices like that, that potentially puts at risk everything we are working towards."

How is the city's lockdown being eased?

While the entire state of Victoria has been in lockdown since early July, Melbourne - the state's capital - has been under tighter restrictions.

From Monday, some restrictions in Melbourne are being lifted gradually.

People in the city can exercise outdoors for two hours, and people who live alone can form small "social bubbles" that allow one person to visit their home. From 28 September, people will be allowed to exercise outdoors with a personal trainer and one other person.

The curfew will also be reduced by an hour from Monday, and will be in place from 21:00 to 05:00. Previously, it began at 20:00.

If there are fewer than five new cases per day, the curfew and exercise limits will be lifted on 26 October.

On Sunday, Mr Andrews said the state couldn't afford to reopen too quickly.

"No one is enjoying the reality we face, but none of us have the option of ignoring the reality that we face," he said. "We cannot open up now and stay open. It would not be safe, it would not be smart."

There's currently an inquiry into failings within Victoria's hotel quarantine system, which has been linked to many of the cases in the state's second wave.

Mr Andrews has now confirmed that he will appear before the inquiry to answer questions on 23 September.

He set up the inquiry and has previously said he, as Premier, ultimately holds responsibility for the scheme.