Health boss warns plan to march is ’unacceptable risk’

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth has described the plan by Black Lives Matters activists to defy a court ban and go ahead with Tuesday’s protest as “an unacceptable risk”.

BLM protesters have vowed to go ahead and march in Sydney on Tuesday despite a court-ordered police ban on the rally, with the organiser saying “racism is a massive pandemic too”.

Paul Silva, whose uncle David Dungay JR’s 2015 death in custody was a rallying point for the protest, said “we need to see action and we will not be silenced”.

“This decision to push ahead has been made by the family and we thank all our supporters who are standing with us,” he posted on Facebook.

“Whatever happens in court … we will be leading a rally in Sydney on July 28.”

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Speaking on The Sunday Project, Dr Coatsworth agreed with the proposition by BLM protesters that there were no confirmed cases in the last Sydney protest, held in June.

“Look I think that’s true,” he said, “the difficulty is, though, there wasn’t much community transmission at that point. We know when there is unlinked chains of transmission.

“I’d love to be able to say go ahead and protest but to me it’s an unacceptable risk.”

Mr Silva posted the message on Facebook 12 hours before the NSW Supreme Court ruled in favour of the NSW Police application to prohibit the protest from going ahead due to COVID-19 health fears.

The ban means the protest, which was to be attended by thousands on Tuesday, would place at risk any attendee to being charged with blocking traffic or breaching coronavirus-related health orders.

But Mr Silva said the protest could go ahead if activists marched in groups of 20.

NSW Police responded by issuing a statement on Sunday afternoon “strongly” urging protesters to reconsider their plans.

“While the NSW Police recognises and supports the rights of individuals to exercise their right to free speech, large-scale events, such as these, are currently subject to restrictions under the Public Health Act,” the statement said.

Police would “not hesitate to take the appropriate action, if required”.

Mr Silva posted another message on Facebook on Sunday, saying he would be appealing the court decision.

“The Police say they want to shut us down because they are concerned about peoples’ lives but they don’t care about black lives, are we not humans too?” he wrote.

Mr Silva said he wanted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to order an investigation into whether charges can be laid over the death of Mr Dungay, who he claims was “killed” by prison officers in Long Bay Hospital.

“I would like the premier to confirm that black lives matter in NSW by asking for that investigation,” Mr Silva posted today.

“If she refuses then it just goes to show that no one cares about our lives and we will see you on Tuesday.”

In his earlier post, he wrote that “people are telling us to wait until after COVID-19 but we can’t”.

“Before the murder of George Floyd we were marching with only 20-50 people and sometimes one news camera,” he wrote. “Now we have all the news cameras and thousands of people.”

He said the Dungay family is “requesting everyone abide by COVID-19 safety protocols” of 1.5m social distancing, hand sanitising, and wearing a mask.

“Do not catch public transport unless you absolutely have to. We do not want to clog the system.

“If the rally is not ‘authorised’ by the court … we will have to stay in groups of less than 20.”


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