Thirty-two people have been arrested after hundreds of anti-vaccine and lockdown protesters descended on central London. The “Resist And Act For Freedom” rally saw heated clashes between demonstrators and police on Saturday afternoon.
Dozens of officers, including some on horseback, were repelled by human blockades as they urged the crowds to disperse.
Scotland Yard condemned the “unacceptable” outbreaks of “hostility and violence”, which it said had left two officers suffering minor injuries.
By Harriet Brewis
At least one protester was seen with a bloodied head while another was seen receiving medical attention on the ground, and the London Ambulance Service said three patients were assessed with one taken to hospital.
The London landmark was cleared of protesters after 5pm, and the Metropolitan Police said 32 people were arrested for offences including violent disorder, public order and assault on an emergency worker.
Superintendent Emma Richards said: “We remain in the middle of a public health crisis, and by gathering in large numbers – such as today’s protest – puts others at risk. We advised those in attendance to leave but many refused to do so.
“The amount of hostility shown towards officers, who were simply there to keep people safe, is unacceptable. More than 30 people were arrested and they remain in custody.”
It came just a day after London mayor Sadiq Khan warned it was increasingly likely” that restrictions would need to be reimposed to curb a new surge in coronavirus infections.
He said he was “extremely concerned” about the rate of transmission in the capital, where the number of weekly cases per 100,000 people is reported to have increased from 18.8 to around 25.
Police said they had to take “enforcement action to disperse” the crowds after officers who had attempted to “explain, engage and encourage them to leave” were met with “hostility” and “violence” from some demonstrators.
Protests are exempt from new legal restrictions introduced on Monday limiting groups to six, but only if they are “organised in compliance with Covid-19 Secure guidance”, the Government said.
Traffic around Trafalgar Square came to a halt during the demonstration, with one protester seen apparently spitting through the open window of a taxi whose driver had beeped the horn in frustration.
Rally organisers sold T-shirts bearing 5G conspiracy theories, with banners calling for Government scientific advisers to be sacked and declaring Covid-19 a “hoax”.
Addressing the crowd to huge cheers, organiser Kate Shemirani said: “We are the resistance.”
The protest was advertised with an image showing a vaccine bottle and urging people to “Come together, resist and act.”
One speaker at the rally, Professor Dolores Cahill of University College Dublin (UCD), suggested a coronavirus vaccine could “make people sick” – in a break with established scientific opinion.
The UCD has previously disassociated itself from views on Covid-19 aired by Prof Cahill, who also chairs the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party, the Irish Times reported.
Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious disease and have virtually eradicated smallpox, polio and tetanus in the UK, the NHS says.
But if people stop getting vaccinated then diseases can quickly spread again, it said, pointing to a spike in measles and mumps between 2016 and 2018.
There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, allergies or other conditions, weaken the immune system in any way, or contain harmful ingredients, it adds.
The World Health Organisation says immunisation prevents two to three million deaths per year.