Several thousand people took to the streets of Australia on Saturday to protest against COVID-19 vaccination warrants, as smaller crowds gathered to support measures that have elevated the country to one of the most vaccinated in the world. world.
Almost 85% of Australians aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of November 19. While nationwide vaccinations are voluntary, states and territories have made vaccination mandatory for many professions and barred unvaccinated people from activities such as dining and concerts.
Singing “freedom” and carrying signs calling for “fighting tyranny” and proclaiming “vax-free lives matter”, several thousand anti-vaccination protesters marched through the streets of central Melbourne, the second largest city in Melbourne. Australia, at the same time as many families were enjoying the Christmas windows of the city’s department stores.
There were also protests in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, with police closely monitoring rallies and no immediate reports of unruly behavior were made.
Australian journalist Dana Morse told Al Jazeera Melbourne has endured the longest lockdown in the world.
âSome parts of the community are concerned about some pandemic management laws that the state government is currently trying to push through the upper house of parliament,â said Morse, who is based in Melbourne.
“This bill has stalled, but people are concerned about how much power the state government will have if the bill passes.”
People are also protesting against “no jab no work” laws which mean people who are not currently vaccinated will not be able to continue working, she added.
Anti-vaccination protests have been going on for weeks in Australia, at times turning violent and attracting cowardly groups of citizens, as well as supporters of conspiracy theories and the far right.
The anti-vaccination movement, however, remains small, with polls showing single-digit opposition nationwide.
âWe are looking at a country that as a whole believes in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines when it comes to treating COVID-19,â Morse said.
âEven when you look at the demonstrations of tens of thousands of people as we have seen on the streets of Melbourne today – which is a city of five million people – we are still talking about a minority but very noisy party. of the population, âshe said, referring to the protesters who were against the jabs.
A counter-rally of several hundred people took place in Melbourne, organized by the Campaign Against Racism & Fascism group under the slogan âDon’t scab, get the jabâ.
One of the organizers of the anti-fascist rally, Nahui Jimenez, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the protest was “a message of solidarity” with the country’s health workers.
âThe majority of people support these health measures which have in fact helped millions of people avoid contracting COVID,â she said.
The head of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year and one of Australia’s biggest sporting events, said on Saturday that all players will need to be vaccinated to participate in the event, which takes place in Melbourne.
As of Saturday, there were 1,166 new cases of COVID-19 in the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital. Five other people died. The most populous state of New South Wales, where nearly 92% of people are fully vaccinated, reported 182 new cases.
Despite the Delta outbreaks that led to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia has only recorded around 760 confirmed cases and 7.5 deaths per 100,000 population, according to data from the World Organization of health, much less than many other developed countries. The UK, for example, has recorded over 14,000 confirmed cases and 211 deaths per 100,000 people.
Neighboring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the coronavirus through high vaccination rates, has reported 172 new cases. As of Friday, 83% of the Pacific nation’s population had been fully immunized.