NEWS
27/07/2020 9:10 AM AEST | Updated 27/07/2020 3:43 PM AEST

Health Authorities' COVID-19 Warning To Sydney Black Lives Matter Protesters

"If it wasn’t the time before, it is not the time now," said Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth.

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BLM protesters march and hold up signs from Sydney Town Hall along Castlereagh St to Belmore Park on 06 June, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. 

Australian health authorities had a stern message for Black Lives Matter protesters after the NSW supreme court ordered a halt to Tuesday’s BLM protest.  

During an interview with ABC News on Monday morning, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth was asked if he had concerns about the protesters willing to go ahead on Tuesday despite the ban. 

“We were talking a moment ago to Paddy Gibson, the organiser of the public interest immunity protest in Sydney. He is not happy at the suggestions that it is arrogant and dangerous to go ahead with the march. What do you think about it?” presenter Lisa Millar asked Coatsworth. 

“Well, I don’t think I’d use those terms,” he responded.

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Dr Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer pictured on July 9, 2020 in Canberra, Australia.
ABC
Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth on ABC News on Monday, July 27

“I think that people in a democratic society, for a cause like Black Lives Matter, do want to protest and like many things, our activities have had to be put on hold for COVID-19.

“But what I would say to Paddy and others is that if it wasn’t the time before, it is not the time now. There are unlinked cases of community transmission in New South Wales and gathering together, it is not our view that that can be done safely. When it can be done safely, I will be out there with you, Paddy.”

On Sunday the New South Wales state supreme court granted a police application to halt the rally. Police cited concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus to protesters, the public and police officers. 

Several thousand people had been expected at the protest in Sydney on Tuesday against the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, building on momentum from the global Black Lives Matter demonstrations for racial justice and against police brutality.

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Rally organiser David Silva makes his entrance into a rally against Black Deaths in Custody in The Domain on July 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.The rally was organised to protest against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody and in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. 

Justice Mark Ierace noted public health authorities raised their risk assessment for the transmission of the new coronavirus to “medium” from “low” in early July, after thousands had attended protests across Australia’s main cities in June without any evidence of transmission.

Australian health authorities have been fighting more than 100 outbreaks in the neighbouring state of Victoria, which saw a record 10 deaths overnight from Saturday to Sunday, raising fears that small clusters in NSW could quickly escalate.

Outside the court, organiser Paddy Gibson said he would appeal the decision and the protest would go ahead.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: Police wearing face masks watch people gather at a rally against Black Deaths in Custody in The Domain on July 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. 

“We do not suspend the basic fight for justice that Aboriginal people have got going in this country just because there’s a pandemic,” he told ABC. 

But NSW police “strongly urged” people to reconsider plans to attend the “unauthorised” protest, referring to public health restrictions on large gatherings.

“Police will not hesitate to take the appropriate action, if required,” the police said in a statement.

Protesters are demanding justice for David Dungay Jr, 26, an indigenous man who died after being restrained by police at a Sydney jail in 2015, where footage showed him repeatedly telling officers he could not breathe.

A coronial inquest in November 2019 found that none of the five guards who restrained Dungay should face disciplinary actions.

With reporting by Melanie Burton (Reuters)