Undeterred by an alarming virus surge or hundreds of arrests over recent days, demonstrations against a vaccine mandate in the Australian state of Victoria continued on Thursday.
Protests have raged all week after the Victoria government shut down the construction industry for two weeks and made it mandatory for construction workers to get vaccinated.
Protesters were out in Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire, facing off with a beefed police presence in most areas.
Hundreds gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial in Melbourne, shouting messages against Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews, a day after 215 people were arrested following an hours-long standoff at the site.
At least 62 people were also taken into custody on Tuesday after clashes between protesters and police in Australia’s second-largest city left four people injured, including a journalist.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in the US, termed the protests “disgraceful” and “disrespectful.”
“The conduct was disgraceful. It was disrespectful and it dishonored those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would hope any and all who were in that should be ashamed,” he was quoted as saying by ABC News.
Police deployment was increased at the offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), which has been targeted by the protesters for supporting the state government’s decisions.
John Setka, chief of the CFMEU, has blamed neo-Nazi and far-right extremists for the violent demonstrations.
Authorities were forced to close down a clinic and a vaccination center in Melbourne on Thursday because the staff was verbally and physically abused, including being repeatedly spat on, while coming to work.
Infections soar to new peak
An ongoing surge driven by the highly infectious Delta variant pushed Victoria’s daily cases to a record high on Thursday.
There were 766 cases detected in the state over the past day, raising the total count to 30,961.
According to the latest data, there are now 6,666 active cases in Victoria, with 257 patients in hospitals and 60 in intensive care units.
Four more fatalities were also recorded in the state, taking the death toll to 840.
Australia’s overall tally now stands at 90,372, including 1,186 fatalities, the latest data shows.
There are close to 19,500 actives in the country and at least 1,518 people are currently hospitalized.