Top cop says protesters ‘not of sound mind’

Tens of thousands of Australians planning to take to the streets over the death of George Floyd are “not of sound mind,” said NSW Police Minister David Elliott.

He said anyone seeking to gather during a global pandemic was “certifiably insane” and “nuts”.

More than 26,000 people say they are planning to attend a “Rally and Vigil for George Floyd” protest in Sydney on Saturday.

“If you attend a mass gathering and then expose any disease to a loved one, someone who is vulnerable, the elderly, you’ve acted completely inappropriately,” Mr Elliott told 2GB Radio this morning.

“I don’t think anyone who goes out during a pandemic and joins a mass gathering is of sound mind.”

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However, he admitted it was impossible to stop the rally, which is being hosted by three local activist groups at Town Hall at 3pm, and has been authorised by the NSW Police.

Up to 20,000 people are also expected at the march in Melbourne. However, police won’t be arresting or fining people for breaking social distancing rules, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Organisers are recommending face masks should be worn, and even suggesting attendees self-isolate for two weeks after the rally.

Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton today said he understood how strongly people feel about the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

“Here’s where it gets difficult. In the middle of this pandemic, 20,000 people are expected to turn out in … Melbourne and that puts at risk everything we’ve been working so hard to achieve in terms of COVID-19,” Mr Dutton told the Nine Network.

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“I … would encourage everybody that’s thinking about the protests to do it from home.”

In NSW, Police Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy said the Sydney event will require a major policing operation over the busy weekend.

“With the amount of people that are gathering together, it is a chance to take away all the good work we’ve done so far with COVID. Coming into the long weekend, my concentration particularly is around the road toll, and saving lives on our roads,” he told Today.

He said enforcing social distancing at the protest will be “very difficult” for officers.

The state’s opposition has challenged the government over its decision to allow Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney to go ahead while gatherings for weddings and funerals remain restricted.

While Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged participants to maintain social distancing, her critics within NSW Labor are questioning the decision to let the march take place.

“Is (Premier Berejiklian) really giving her approval for a mass rally with potentially thousands of participants, when the maximum number of people allowed to visit a private home remains just five?” Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said to The Daily Telegraph on Friday.

Under restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, up to 20 people can attend weddings and up to 50 can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs and cafes.

Householders are allowed up to five visitors and outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people.

Saturday’s rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park is being held to protest the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody and in solidarity with the US protests for George Floyd.

A vigil will later be held in Chippendale for Aboriginal man David Dungay and Mr Floyd.

The Government on Thursday urged NSW residents to be cautious and observe social distancing this June long weekend after intrastate travel was this week permitted.

“We’re probably doing better than we anticipated at this stage of the pandemic, however, we have to be cautious, we have to be vigilant, we have to be safe to make sure that even the mildest symptom means we get tested,” Ms Berejiklian said.

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