Police moved into London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon to break up a protest against coronavirus restrictions.
Thousands of people gathered in the iconic square to hear speakers who criticized government-imposed restrictions as an overreaction that needlessly restricted human rights and freedom of expression.
The Metropolitan Police Service had said before the event that officers would first ask protesters to follow social distancing rules, but that they would take enforcement action if demonstrators failed to comply.
As the event began, officers were visible around the perimeter of the square, but they didn’t move into the crowd for about three hours.
“Crowds in Trafalgar Square have not complied with the conditions of their risk assessment and are putting people in danger of transmitting the virus,” police said in a statement, adding, “We are now asking those in Trafalgar Square to leave.”
The demonstration comes as Parliament prepares to review coronavirus legislation and the government imposes new restrictions.
Some lawmakers have criticized the government for implementing the rules without parliamentary approval.
Dan Astin-Gregory, a leadership trainer, acknowledged the deaths caused by the pandemic, but said the response to the virus has been out of proportion to the threat it poses.
“We are tired of the fear mongering and the misrepresentation of the facts,” he told the crowd. “We are tired of the restrictions to our freedoms.″
The government earlier this week ordered a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants nationwide, along with tougher mask requirements and increased fines for non-compliance.
It has also banned most social gatherings of more than six people, but there is an exemption for protests as long as organizers comply with social distancing rules.
The demonstration comes a week after a similar event. Police say several officers were hurt during that protest when a “small minority’’ of protesters became violent.
Britain has Europe’s worst death toll from the pandemic, with nearly 42,000 confirmed deaths tied to COVID-19.
In addition to the nationwide coronavirus rules, several jurisdictions have imposed even tighter restrictions.
By Monday, one-quarter of the U.K.’s 65 million people will be living under these heightened restrictions.
London, home to almost 9 million people, on Friday was added to the British government’s coronavirus watchlist as an “area of concern.” That means the U.K. capital could face new restrictions as well.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.