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Australian leaders use courts, coronavirus fears to block anti-racism protests

George Floyd protests: How to stay safe while demonstrating during the coronavirus pandemic
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the U.S. and around the world to protest against racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But health experts are urging demonstrators to take the necessary precautions in order to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Australian authorities are taking legal action to try stop a Black Lives Matter protest scheduled to take place in Sydney on Saturday, citing the risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 given the large numbers expected to attend.

The last-minute move by the New South Wales state government on Friday came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison told people not to attend the gathering and similar rallies in Melbourne and other major cities.

READ MORE: George Floyd protests go global as ‘I can’t breathe’ echoes across Europe, Australia

NSW police had originally approved the protest, on the understanding there would be fewer than 500 participants. Organizers now expect thousands of people to attend the gatherings.

“The New South Wales government would never, ever give the green light to thousands of people flagrantly disregarding the health orders,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

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The NSW Supreme Court will hear the matter on Friday afternoon.

Coronavirus outbreak: CDC director recommends people who attended protests get tested
Coronavirus outbreak: CDC director recommends people who attended protests get tested

Morrison said earlier that people should find other ways to express anger following the death of Black American George Floyd in U.S. police custody.

“The health advice is very clear, it’s not a good idea to go,” he told reporters in Canberra. “Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments … let’s exercise our liberties responsibly.”

The Melbourne protest is still scheduled to take place with state police approval, although Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews has urged people not to attend.

READ MORE: No yelling, wear a mask: How George Floyd protests can be safe amid COVID-19

The protests will also throw a spotlight on police treatment of Australian indigenous people, including the deaths of Aboriginal men in custody.

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Australia has reported daily single digit and low double digit numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and has 490 active cases, with just 25 people in hospital.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Jane Wardell)