Anti-lockdown protests planned in Sydney on Saturday have so far failed to materialise, with police confident that a city-wide crackdown on movement and checkpoints entering the city prevented a repeat of the lockdown-violating mass gatherings seen last weekend.
As NSW health authorities announced 210 new cases in the Delta outbreak on Saturday morning, the deputy police commissioner Mick Willing set the scene for an operation involving mounted police, helicopters, harsh fines and an exclusion zone to keep potential protesters from gathering where planned.
Taxi and rideshare companies were banned from taking passengers into Sydney’s central business district between 9am and 3pm, with fines of up to $500,000 for businesses and $100,000 for individuals who failed to comply.
There were 1,000 police officers across the city, aided by 300 defence force personnel, who set up roadblocks on key roads across the city, with the exclusion zone stretching from the Bradfield Highway at Milsons Point, north of the Harbour Bridge, to the City West Link at Lilyfield, to South Dowling Street near Todman Avenue at Zetland, and east to New South Head Road near Ocean Avenue at Edgecliff. The Harbour tunnel was also closed.
Police were also stopping cars at Prince Highway and Sydney Park Road trying to enter the city via Newtown, and checking if there were more than two passengers in a car and if they were more than 10km from their home. Similar checks were conducted on Oxford Street in Paddington.
Mounted police also gathered in Hyde Park in case some protesters entered the city centre.
But a police spokesperson told Guardian Australia the operation on key roads appeared to have prevented a mass gathering.
Minutes before the exclusion zone ended at 3pm, the spokesperson said police were considering the operation a success, and had reports of only isolated incidents.
Earlier, groups on Telegram that coordinated the thousands-strong gathering last Saturday were urging followers not to attend today’s event, warning it “lacks an established ground team and has been given insufficient promotional time and effort”.
The organisers instead called on followers to gather for a protest scheduled for late in August.
A handful of members of the Telegram channels used to organise protests sent pictures of police checkpoints on roads and in Hyde Park, warning others not to join. Others warned the event would be a “media trap”.