Australia recorded 1,882 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, as thousands of police officers in Sydney and Melbourne were deployed to quell planned anti-lockdown protests, setting up checkpoints and barricades.
Several hundred people managed to gather in downtown Melbourne and local media reported some early arrests and clashes with the police, as 2,000 officers made the area virtually a no-go zone. Public transport and ride shares into the city were suspended.
In Sydney, riot squad officers, highway patrol, detectives and general duties police were also deployed to the streets.
Australia has been grappling with an outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus since mid-June, with both Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, in strict lockdowns for weeks now.
New South Wales reported 1,331 COVID-19 cases, mostly in state capital Sydney, and six deaths, while Victoria had 535 new infections, again mostly in state capital Melbourne, along with one death.
Most of the restrictions in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are to remain until at least 70% of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, which based on the current pace of inoculations could be in late October or early November.
A high rate of compliance with public health orders has helped Australia keep the number of infections relatively low, with just under 85,000 total cases and 1,145 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The vast majority of Australians support vaccinations and the public health measures, but there have been sporadic and sometimes violent protests against the management of the pandemic.
New South Wales police on Friday issued a warning against the protests, saying participants could expect to face penalties ranging from a fine to being arrested.