At least six people have been arrested following a massive protest march against COVID-19 safety measures in London.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that two arrests came during the march itself and fur during scuffles between protesters and police officers in London's Hyde Park.
Up to 10,000 people are thought to have gathered in central London on Saturday for the so-called “Unite for Freedom” event.
Protesters marched through the streets chanting "Freedom" and "Take off your mask," while some carried placards saying "No to vaccine passports" and "Lockdowns kill".
The demonstration took place amid the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions in England. After months of nationwide lockdown, pubs and restaurants resumed outdoor service on Monday, April 12 together with the re-opening of non-essential shops.
Despite the progress, the process is not expected to fully conclude until mid-June at the earliest. More than 45 million people in the UK have received their first dose of vaccine and 12 million are now fully inoculated.
The event on Saturday drew crowds from all walks of life, many of whom had travelled to the capital from elsewhere in the UK to take part. Protesters danced and heckled shoppers wearing masks in Oxford Street, while a handful were involved in violent clashes with police.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said Saturday that no-one was thought to have been arrested, even though some participants had attacked police officers in Hyde Park and according to the force, eight officers were injured.
In the aftermath, thousands of Britons took to the internet to castigate those who had taken part using the hashtag #IstandwithNHSstaff.
Grassroots National Health Service (NHS) campaign NHS Million had called on people to rally around the country’s exhausted frontline health workers, who have now spent more than 12 months fighting COVID-19 in hospital wards around the country.
Participants called the protests “despicable” and “shameful” in a country in which at least 130,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19.
The divisive incident took place a week and a half before London’s Mayoral election. At least two of the candidates, political commentator Lawrence Fox and Piers Corbyn, the brother of former opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, are known lockdown sceptics.
Despite the mass flouting of official restrictions and the injuries sustained by police, none of Britain’s most prominent politicians have so far commented on Saturday’s events.
Some of the protesters also complained about a lack of coverage of the rally in the media.