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Coronavirus: Australian police crack down on anti-lockdown rallies

Police have arrested several people at an anti-coronavirus lockdown rally in the hardest-hit Victoria state. Despite instructions to adhere to social distancing rules, hundreds of people took to the streets.

Police in Australia's Victoria state have made several arrests among a crowd of about 300 people protesting the coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne.

According to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), around 300 people participated in the rallies on Saturday. Police arrested at least 20 people including one of AAP's photographers, the news agency said.

Authorities have imposed restrictions, including a night curfew, to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Read more: Melbourne to enforce new coronavirus pandemic measures

Despite instructions to adhere to social distancing rules, hundreds of people took to the streets on the so-called "Freedom Day" to protest against lockdown measures.

Local media posted images of a heavy police presence in the city and scuffles with protesters at a rally taking place at the city's Shrine of Remembrance.

"Police have formed their line at the steps to the shrine. Ugly scenes. Punches thrown. Many arrests," a Nine News reporter at the scene tweeted.

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Similar rallies held in Sydney and Byron Bay in the state of New South Wales also breached local restrictions against large gatherings.

'Absolutely selfish'

Victoria is in the midst of a stage-four lockdown — the harshest coronavirus restrictions in the country. It includes an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, a 5-kilometer (3-mile) travel limit and a daily one-hour outdoor workout limit.

On Saturday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews issued a stern warning to people planning to protest against the government's lockdown measures.

"It is not safe, it is not smart, it is not lawful. It is absolutely selfish for people to be out there protesting," he said.

Read more: Melbourne enters tough new lockdown and curfew

Economic recession

The central government and businesses have urged Victoria, which makes up about a quarter of the nation's economy, to ease restrictions as the country has sunk into its first recession since 1991.

Andrews said he would take a "steady and safe" approach out of the lockdown.

"This is a health problem in the first instance and until you fix the health problem, there can be no economic repair," he said.

According to Andrews, 76 new coronavirus cases were recorded overnight on Saturday, with at least 11 coronavirus-related deaths, taking the state's death toll to 661 and the national total to 748.

As of Saturday, Australia has recorded 26,207 COVID-19 cases.

The six-week lockdown across Melbourne is expected to be lifted on September 13.

shs/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)