NSW Police Minister David Elliott has announced the formation of a strike force comprised of 22 detectives to identify and track down the estimated 3,500 protesters who marched through the city on Saturday.
He said more than 90 infringement notices have been issued so far, with 57 charges made.
“I’m hoping we issue 3,500 infringement notices, I’m hoping we have people before the courts,” he told reporters on Saturday afternoon.
“If you don’t want to be in lockdown, obey the rules.”
Mr Elliott described the protest as an “absolute disgrace”, saying the “selfish and inappropriate behavior” of protesters is “what’s going to continue this city into lockdown”.
“There is no doubt in my mind that at least one individual there today had COVID. Statistically, it is impossible for us not to consider that,” he added, urging anyone who attended to get tested for COVID-19 immediately.
Thousands of angry people, many of whom were unmasked, marched from inner Sydney’s Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district.
They broke through a police barrier to continue down George Street but were stopped at King Street.
There is a heavy police presence in Sydney, including mounted police and riot officers.
Protesters threw plastic bottles and plants taken from the street at officers.
Signs carried by the protesters call for “freedom” and “the truth”.
One dramatic image showed a protester, who is yet to be identified, appearing to strike a mounted police horse outside Town Hall.
The image went viral and sparked widespread outrage online after NSW Police posted the photo of the horse, named Tobruk, to its Facebook page.
In a subsequent update, NSW Police confirmed the horse was safe and did not sustain injuries.
“Troop horse Tobruk was not injured and is recovering back at the stables after a hard day’s work,” it said.
“If you have any information to assist in identifying the man depicted, please contact police.”
The protest comes as COVID-19 case numbers in NSW reached another record high since the first wave in 2020.
Some 163 new local cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, up from 136 the day before.
Greater Sydney has been locked down for the past four weeks, with residents only able to leave home with a reasonable excuse.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard condemned the planned protest as “really silly” on Saturday morning.
“We live in a democracy and normally I am certainly one who supports people’s rights to protest … but at the present time we’ve got cases going through the roof and we have people thinking that’s OK to get out there and possibly be close to each other at a demonstration.”
SOURCE: AAP – SBS