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A COVID-19 public health order sign for social distancing on Bondi Beach in Sydney on July 4, 2021.
A COVID-19 public health order sign for social distancing on Bondi Beach in Sydney on July 4, 2021. (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

This weekend's anti-lockdown protests in Sydney were "selfish and self-defeating," Australia's prime minister said Sunday, amid a global wave of renewed restrictions and resulting demonstrations as the highly-contagious delta variant spreads.

Some 3,500 people protested Saturday in Sydney after New South Wales tightened its regulations last week in response to rising coronavirus cases, even as the city's lockdown enters its fifth week. The demonstrations violated the region's strict stay-at-home orders and restrictions on public gatherings and face mask mandates.

Authorities are warning it could have been a super spreader event.

New South Wales police said Sunday on their website that they had arrested 63 people allegedly involved in the protest and charged 35 for violations such as resisting, assaulting, and obstructing officers. Two men were charged with striking a police horse and refused bail.

Police have appealed to the public for help identifying participants and said they have received more than 5,500 reports. They are also combing social media, police body cameras, and CCTV footage as part of their operation.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized the weekend's protests in Sydney and other Australian cities.

"It achieves no purpose," he said, The Guardian reported. "It won't end the lockdown sooner."

Other Australian leaders issued similar condemnations.

"It just broke my heart that people had such a disregard for their fellow citizens," New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said, adding that she was "utterly disgusted."

"Sydney isn't immune from morons," said NSW police minister, David Elliott, on Sunday, The Guardian reported.

Protests also occurred in other cities across Australia this weekend, including at the state capital in Melbourne in Victoria state.

Those demonstrations were a "small minority having a self-indulgent tantrum," said Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, adding that you "cannot vaccinate against selfishness."

Nearly half of Australia's population of some 25 million are under a form of lockdown as outbreaks fueled by the delta variant have hit cities and communities until now largely spared the worst of the pandemic.

Though Australia's infection and fatality rates still remain far below other global hotspots, like India and Brazil, authorities are worried that the country's sluggish rollout of coronavirus vaccines will make this wave even harder to control. Less than 13 percent of Australians have been fully inoculated since the country's vaccine program began in February.

On Sunday New South Wales reported 141 new confirmed coronavirus cases and two related fatalities, including the death of a 30-year-old woman.

Nearly 18 months since the first round of shutdowns hit much of the world, some governments have once again been reimposing restrictions. Though many had looked forward to the easing of these social and economic measures with the advent of coronavirus vaccines, the emergence of highly transmissible variants, deep global disparities in vaccine access, and vaccine hesitation and misinformation among those with availability have upended expectations.

Once more, these curtailments have led to rounds of protest and unrest in cities and communities across the globe, with slogans ranging from misinformation about the vaccines to concerns over government overstep.

On Saturday, police in Paris deployed tear gas at protesters demonstrating against plans by French President Emmanuelle Macron to implement a health pass that offers access to restaurants, bars and other venues and public spaces only to vaccinated individuals. Similar protests were held across France this weekend with police estimating that 160,000 people demonstrated around the country.

Demonstrations were also held in Italy, where a new "green pass" mandating a vaccine for indoor diners is coming into effect.

In London, at least six people were arrested and four police officers injured Saturday during a protest some coronavirus restrictions there even as the country reopens.

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