Thousands of demonstrators descended on to Melbourne’s central business district on Saturday, protesting against the Victorian government’s new pandemic powers and vaccine mandates.
The protest, which included signs advocating violence against politicians and a man carrying a prop gallows with three nooses hanging from it, came as the state recorded 1,221 Covid-19 cases and four deaths.
Wet weather did not deter the crowd, which chanted “kill the bill” and “sack Dan Andrews” as it blocked tram lines and marched from the Victorian State Library to Parliament House in Spring Street.
Many held signs that likened the Victorian government to oppressive regimes and former Liberal MP and current head of the United Australia party Craig Kelly addressed the crowd outside Parliament House, denouncing vaccine passports and the vaccination of children.
Kelly said Australia was being “governed by medical bureaucrats that are part of a mad, insane cult” and claimed the party would “bring Daniel Andrews to his knees” at the next federal election.
The new pandemic laws, which will replace the state-of-emergency powers that expire on 15 December, will allow the premier and health minister to declare a pandemic and make public health orders.
The new laws will also curtail the role and responsibilities of the chief health officer.
The protesters also singled out vaccine mandates, as the mandate for construction workers took effect on Saturday. The mandate, which sparked violent protests across Melbourne in September, required all tradies to have had two vaccine doses by Saturday.
The requirement will extend to residential aged care workers on Monday. About 1 million of the state’s essential workers in total will be required to be double-jabbed by 26 November.
Anyone with a valid medical exemption will be able to continue working.
Liberal upper house leader David Davis called the premier’s pandemic legislation a “grab for power” but urged protesters not to resort to violence.
“I would encourage Victorians to fight on every level against Daniel Andrews’ terrible pandemic bill … but they should make their views known in a peaceful and calm and sensible way,” he told reporters.
The protest came a week after about 3,000 people attended a protest last Saturday, calling for the resignation of the Victorian premier.
So far, 86% of eligible Victorians have now received both doses of the Covid vaccine, with 92% receiving the first dose. The state is managing 16,671 active Covid cases, some 405 of them in hospital care. Seventy-seven patients are in intensive care, 51 of them requiring ventilation.
New South Wales recorded no new deaths from Covid for the first time in months on Saturday, recording 250 new locally acquired cases.
The health districts with the most cases were in south-western Sydney, where 54 people tested positive, and western Sydney, where there were 42 new cases.
In the state’s regions there were 39 new cases in the Hunter New England region and 32 in the Murrumbidgee area.
In a video released by NSW Health, Dr Jeremy McAnulty urged families to vaccinate their children, with 80.5% of children aged between 12 and 15 receiving one dose, and 72.4% fully vaccinated.
“We really need to get those children vaccinated, even though we’ve got high rates in older adults.”
McAnulty said now the state had passed the 90% double-dose vaccination milestone, it was important for anyone aged 18 and over who had been vaccinated for six months to seek out a booster shot.
“While the risk of infection and disease is much higher in unvaccinated people, we do sometimes see outbreaks occurring among vaccinated people, particularly in indoor settings like gyms, bars and pubs,” McAnulty said on Saturday. “Early testing, if you have the symptoms, is really critical.”
The high vaccine numbers and dropping case numbers have meant the NSW government has moved to change restrictions for international students, who will no longer need to quarantine upon their return to the state from next month.
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, said it was a “significant milestone” for the state.
“They don’t just make a significant contribution to our economy but international students play a role in our culture and contribute to our community and lifestyle.”
The first plane with international students will arrive in Sydney on 6 December, and will include about 250 students from countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Canada.
A second flight bringing students from South Asia is also scheduled.
NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee convenor Barney Glover welcomed the move and said there would hopefully be 500 fully vaccinated students returned to NSW and ACT universities by the end of the year.
From Monday, elective surgery will begin to return to full capacity in Greater Sydney.