LONDON (Reuters) – More than 1,000 people gathered in central London on Saturday to protest blockade measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, before the event was stopped by police.
The protest, which led to 32 arrests, came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering whether to re-impose some lockdown restrictions across England.
Protesters carried banners saying “Covid is a hoax” and “My body, my choice: no to compulsory masks”, as well as shouting to the police: “Choose your side”
Police said protesters were ordered to leave Trafalgar Square on the grounds that the demonstration was putting attendees and other members of the public at risk.
“This, coupled with pockets of hostility and outbreaks of violence against officers, means that we will now take counter action to disperse those who remain in the area,” London Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
Under laws introduced to slow the spread of the infection, people in England are not allowed to congregate in groups of more than six people. There are exemptions for political protests, but only if the organizers follow guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
Organizers of previous anti-blockade protests were fined up to £ 10,000 ($ 12,914).
Some of the protesters at Saturday’s event expressed opposition to mandatory vaccines, as well as a more general distrust of the government, the media and the World Health Organization.
Britain suffered the highest number of deaths in Europe from coronavirus, with over 41,000 deaths by the government’s preferred measure. National tests for the disease have not kept up with demand since schools reopened this month.
The increase in the number of cases in parts of Scotland, Wales and northern England has already led to local restrictions on people inviting friends over to their homes and has reduced the opening hours of pubs and restaurants.
Reporting by Henry Nicholls; Written by David Milliken; Editing by Ros Russell and Mike Harrison