LONDON – Police arrested more than 150 people on Saturday as they tried to end lockdown and vaccine protests in the UK capital as the country continues to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.
Hundreds of protesters, most of whom were not wearing face masks, came into the shopping district in central London holding up signs reading “Unmasking the Truth” and chanting “Freedom” in violation of strict coronavirus rules prohibiting mass gatherings.
The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that their officials had carried out a series of “early interventions” to prevent people from congregating and to urge people to go home. They intercepted buses that were transporting demonstrators to the capital, and those who did not turn back and went home were either arrested or issued with fine notices.
Police took several people away in handcuffs after the protesters ignored the request to disperse. Several bottles and smoke bombs were thrown as protesters fought with the police.
City police said the arrests were made for violating coronavirus restrictions and assaulting police officers, among other things.
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell in a statement called it “a challenging day” for his officers.
England is currently in a lockdown period that is set to end on Wednesday. However, most of the country will remain tightly restricted as the UK government tries to get the virus under control before Christmas.
The UK has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe at 58,128 deaths since the pandemic began. This emerges from a review by Johns Hopkins University. In the number of confirmed cases on the continent, it is behind France and Spain with more than 1.6 million.
The country’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic as the UK’s national debt climbed to £ 2.1 trillion.
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On Sunday, the UK government said it had received two million additional doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine on top of the five million doses it received two weeks ago.
According to Reuters, shipments to the UK could start as early as the spring if the vaccine meets UK health authority standards.
The new deal came a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson named Nadhim Zahawi, a junior economics minister, responsible for the use of Covid-19 vaccines, a sign that the government was preparing a mass vaccination program.
Britain now has access to 357 million doses of vaccines from seven developers for its 67 million people, according to a Government statement, including 100 million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University in the UK.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.