Hundreds of demonstrators in Australia’s largest capitals have defied social-distancing rules, claiming the COVID-19 pandemic is a “scam”.
Anti-vaccination protesters faced-off against the police, waving placards such as “5G = communism”.
The rallies came as restrictions continue to be eased across the country with new coronavirus infections remaining extremely low by international standards.
These easing of restrictions will be put to the test over this weekend and next as Australians enjoy public holidays.
Canberra, for example, is opening gyms and health facilities as well as galleries, museums and other attractions from Saturday, ahead of its public holiday on Monday.
Most state and territory leaders told a national cabinet meeting on Friday they were hopeful of implementing stage three of eased restrictions by the end of July. Stage three includes allowing gatherings of 100 people.
Such has been the success of regular meetings of the cabinet during the crisis – made up of the prime minister, premiers and first ministers – it will replace the less frequent gatherings of the Council of Australian Governments.
However, the process of the national cabinet has not all been plain sailing, with friction over the closing of schools during the height of the crisis, and more recently over borders closures.
The Queensland government, in particular, has been under attack for keeping its border closed.
However, a new survey by the Australia Institute has found more than three quarters of Australians support states closing their borders to interstate travel.
The survey of 1005 people found strong support for border closures among the four largest states – 88 per cent in Western Australia, 78 per cent in Queensland, 76 per cent in Victoria and and 70 per cent in NSW.
“The strong support for state border closures shows that while there is much public relief with some public health restrictions lifting, there is also still much community concern regarding the spread of COVID19,” the institute’s executive director Ben Oquist said on Saturday.
Fewer than 500 cases remain active in Australia out of more than 7170 infections.
In Victoria, nearly a dozen new cases have been confirmed, including three more linked to a Melbourne school and four from a hotel used to quarantine returned travellers.
The state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has warned life cannot return to normal yet.
“People by-and-large are listening but I’m concerned about certain quarters of the community who aren’t getting the message, who are reflecting on the fact that we’re easing some restrictions and are thinking we’re back to normal,” he told reporters.
However, there were no new cases in the nation’s most populous state, NSW, or Queensland.
The coronavirus death toll remains at 103, while in stark contrast the US passed the 100,000 mark this week.
US President Donald Trump has terminated his relationship with the World Health Organisation, following what he says was inadequate response to the initial outbreak in China.
Australian federal Labor is “deeply disappointed” by the decision, saying while there is considerable room for improvement at the WHO, change will not happen by walking away.
“The Australian government should urge the United States to reconsider its decision and work with other member states to ensure adequate funding of the WHO to continue to perform its important role,” Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong and health spokesman Chris Bowen said in a statement.