Linda and Andrew Chan said they had joined the crowd on Bourke Street on Saturday because they opposed vaccination mandates as well as plans to inoculate those under the age of 12.
While the pair said they are both fully vaccinated – with Ms Chan working as a nurse – they felt it was unfair that people were unable to retain employment or go out to dinner if they don’t have two jabs.
“Obviously COVID is real,” Ms Chan said.
“But people do feel the pressure [to get vaccinated] because if you don’t, then you can’t go socialise, you can’t go to restaurants.
“I’m against people being forced to take it just to be able to work.”
By 1pm on Saturday, the protest had moved into Bourke Street Mall, disrupting further tram lines along Swanston Street.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has played down the likelihood of new lockdown restrictions.
Asked if the new variant could prompt the reintroduction of coronavirus restrictions, Professor Kelly said it was still far too early to predict.
“There’s a lot of crystal ball involved with what you’ve said.
“What do we know about this virus? We don’t know a lot about it, to be honest we know we have the genomic sequence, we know that there are mutations within that genomic sequence, what those mutations lead to in terms of clinical efficacy, vaccine efficacy, the ability of the public health, social measures and so forth to keep control. We don’t know that yes.
“We know the only place that we know where there is significant transmission… is South Africa, South Africa has less than 30 per cent whole vaccine coverage. It’s a very different situation to here.
“We will find out much more in the coming days. And we’ll work from there in terms of rolling in or out what else we might do… we will do what we need to do but I think, at this stage, to move towards speculation about where we might end up within Australia, even if it came here and we don’t have it here yet [is premature].”
The atmosphere is a bit like a sporting event on the steps of state parliament, with the blasting of horns and regular cheering.
The crowd is consistently breaking into chants of “sack Dan Andrews”.
Most of Spring Street is filled with people, although they haven’t steered as far as Collins Street to the south.
The crowd is starting to move down Bourke Street.
Thousands of anti-vaccination protesters have gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park amid a heavy police presence in the CBD.
The crowd of unmasked protesters at the so-called freedom rally blew whistles and carried Australian and Eureka flags as they gathered in the city after midday.
They carried signs reading “Refuse, resist, we won’t give in to this” and “It’s not freedom if it’s not in your hands”.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the new variant of concern was the 13th identified so far in the pandemic and there was no evidence that it led to more severe illness.
“We do know that it is it does contain a large number of mutations. It is quite different to previous variants that we’ve been watching, but at this point other than understanding that it is transmissible between humans and is transmitting, particularly in South Africa, but also in those surrounding countries,” he said.
“We did not at this point have any clear indication that it is more severe, or any definite indication of issues in relation to the vaccine. So I think they’re crucial points to the reason why we’re taking this precautionary approach, which is proportionate to that risk.”
Travellers who have been in southern Africa in the 14 days before their arrival in Australia have been urged to get a COVID-19 test and isolate immediately, as health authorities scramble to deal with the new COVID-19 variant.
NSW Health on Saturday said it was working with the federal and state governments to “rapidly understand” the implications of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
No cases of the Omicron B.1.1.529 variant of concern of COVID-19 have been identified in NSW, but NSW Health on Saturday said it was contacting all international travellers who have arrived in the last 14 days.
“The emergence of this new variant reinforces the critical importance of all fully vaccinated travellers who return from overseas complying with the NSW Health guidelines; there are requirements to be tested and restrictions on attending certain high-risk premises,” NSW Health said in a statement.
Travellers who had been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini are asked to get a test and isolate, with other travellers receiving a reminder of their testing requirements.
Travellers who have been in southern Africa are also asked to call NSW Health on 1800 943 553.
Mr Hunt also stressed that the emergence of the variant of concern came as the country was in a very different position that earlier in the pandemic.
He said there were no known cases of the Omicron variant in Australia.
“We’ll just note that there are 20 people in quarantine in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory who’ve arrived from South Africa in the last week,” he said.
They had all been tested with just one positive case and that case would be examined futher.
“The difference is that we now have strong vaccines, we have one of the highest level of coverage in the world, we have one of the most recently vaccinated populations in the world. We have strong public health and social measures and we also have, most significantly, a well-prepared hospital system.”
Mr Hunt staid all flights from the nine affected African countries will also be suspended for two weeks as a precaution.
The travel restrictions also apply to people, such as international students and skilled migrants arriving under travel bubble arrangements who have been in any of the nine countries within the past 14 days.
For anyone who has already arrived in Australia and who has been in any of the nine countries within the past 14 days, must immediately isolate themselves and get tested.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that anyone who is not a citizen of Australia, or their dependents and has been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
These countries include South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique.
Mr Hunt said Australian citizens and residents and their dependents who arrived from these countries would need to go into immediate supervised quarantine for 14 days as subject to the jurisdiction requirements of the relevant states or territories.
Karni, who did not wish to give her last name, said she was attending the Melbourne protest along with three other school teachers because she didn’t believe in the vaccine mandates.
“We’ve all lost our jobs because we don’t want to get vaccinated,” she said.
“We think it’s our freedom of choice to what we put in our body. And when we do that, plus I don’t trust [Dan] Andrews.”
She declined to name the school in Geelong because there were still people there trying to get them vaccinated.
“I never thought I’d be here my generation, fighting for my own freedoms,” she said.
“I’m sure my grandfather’s turning in his grave right now. They fought for freedom in this country, for Dan Andrews and others to just take it away, and then hand us back privilege rather than freedom.“
If the mandates were dropped immediately, Karni said she would still want Mr Andrews to resign.
“I want him gone,” she said.
“I think he needs to answer for what he’s done to this country for the last 18 months to two years.”