COVID anti-vaxers arrested amid protests

An anti-vaccine rally in Melbourne started peacefully but protesters later clashed with police.
An anti-vaccine rally in Melbourne started peacefully but protesters later clashed with police.

Police have made multiple arrests at a protest in opposition to COVID-19 vaccination just two days before Australians are due to start getting jabs.

Hundreds of people gathered in Melbourne's Fawkner Park on Saturday with 20 arrests made, Victoria Police said.

Fifteen of them will receive fines in relation to breaching directions issued by the state's chief health officer, while five have been charged for resisting arrest, hindering police and refusing to provide details.

Simultaneous protests were held in all major cities, as well as regional centres Cairns, Coffs Harbour and Albany.

The federal government has repeatedly said it will not force people to get vaccinated.

However high risk locations such as aged care facilities may be able to compel employees to get the jab and individual businesses and venues may make vaccination a condition of entry.

Victorian police used pepper spray on some protesters when they moved beyond cordons and at times, appeared to lose control of the crowd, an AAP photographer on scene said.

While some people were covered in pepper spray, crowds chanted, "freedom, freedom".

The rally started peacefully but as speakers addressed the crowd "people started getting pretty fired up", the photographer said.

Speakers made comments such as "God's on our side" and "it's a fight between good and evil".

One speaker was interrupted by a directive from police for people to spread out into groups of 20 - the current maximum number allowed for public gatherings in Victoria - which was met with jeers.

Videos taken by Reignite Democracy Australia, an organisation set up in opposition to the Victorian government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, show a speaker congratulating the crowd for turning up.

The woman talked about feeling "so alone" during the lengthy stage-four lockdowns in the city last year and as though she was not allowed to question the government's decisions.

At Sydney's Hyde Park, controversial celebrity chef and conspiracy theorist Pete Evans was among the hundreds of protesters.

Evans, who has recently been banned from social media, addressed the crowd in Sydney.

Protesters marched with placards with slogans such as "herd immunity of vaccines is a scam" and "your body, your choice".

High-risk Australians, including frontline health workers, are due to start receiving coronavirus vaccinations on Monday.

Australian Associated Press