Thousands of people gathered at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday for the ‘Freedom Rally’, to protest the restrictive measures introduced amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Demonstrators flooded almost the entire square, holding placards and banners reading: “No to forced testing” and “No to forced vaccination.”
Many activists went as far as accusing the government of “crimes against humanity,” while banners seen in the crowd ranged from 5G conspiracy theories to flags reading “Trump for 2024.”
Though minor scuffles erupted on the sidelines of the event, resulting in several arrests, the rally was otherwise peaceful. The gathering was attended by controversial media personality Katie Hopkins, who just returned from Australia after her visa was canceled over a quarantine breach. Former TV presenter turned-conspiracy theorist David Icke was also present, as well as Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
One of the speakers, Kate Shemirani, a former nurse turned-anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist, triggered a major controversy, calling the vaccines “Satanic” and describing them as part of a larger surveillance scheme – while urging people to send her the names of doctors and nurses involved in the vaccination campaign.
“If you are a doctor or a nurse, now is the time to get off that bus... and stand with us, the people,” she said, claiming that a group of lawyers is helping her collect the information.
The video of her fierce speech quickly spread on social media, prompting an angry response from London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “I have raised it directly with the Met Police,” he said, while praising the healthcare specialists as “heroes of this pandemic.”
“This is what NHS staff woke up to this morning. A rally talking about hanging doctors and nurses,” the NHS Million campaign said on Twitter, while calling on police to respond to the “hatred and violence towards our hard working NHS staff.”
Elsewhere in the UK, protesters went beyond chanting provocative slogans. In Manchester, a group of anti-vaccination activists sought to storm a local Covid-19 testing center, forcing police to deploy additional guards to the facility.
In Leeds, protesters blocked traffic as they swarmed the streets. The disruption resulted in several local bus companies halting services on some lines.
The protests come in response to government plans to introduce vaccination passports. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that proof of vaccination will soon be required to enter nightclubs and other venues, which have just reopened this week. The announcement was met with widespread resentment and even angered some MPs, who vowed to vote against the measures.