Covid-19: Australian government urges protesters not to attend Black Lives Matter rallies
Australian government leaders have urged activists not to attend Black Lives Matter and other rallies planned for the weekend due to the pandemic risk.
Rallies are planned for Australian cities this weekend over the Minnesota death of George Floyd; the coronavirus risk posed to asylum-seekers held in crowded Australian immigration detention centers; and the pandemic threat created by eating meat.
Police largely did not enforce social distancing rules during peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies attended by thousands in Australian cities last weekend that focused on the high incarceration rate of indigenous Australians.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged police to charge protesters with breaching pandemic restrictions during the coming weekend.
“The very clear message is that people should not attend those events, because it is against the health advice to do so,” Morrison told reporters.
A large police presence gathered in Sydney around the site of a proposed Black Lives Matter rally hours ahead of its scheduled start in an apparent attempt to deter the public gathering.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann suggested demonstrators could lose government welfare payments if they attended rallies, but Morrison later ruled out any such federal retaliation. The government pays a wage subsidy to 3.5 million Australians to keep them in work during the pandemic lockdown.
A protester became sick after attending a Melbourne rally on Saturday and later tested positive for COVID-19. Authorities suspected he became infected before the rally and might have spread the virus to other protesters.
A court on Thursday ruled a refugee rally planned for Sydney on Saturday illegal because of the pandemic threat, increasing the range of powers available to police to prevent it.