On July 19 – England’s so-called “Freedom Day” following the abolishment of lockdown restrictions – thousands of demonstrators gathered at Parliament Square to protest the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The message from protesters seemed fragmented, with different groups organising against separate aspects of governmental policy. A Roar reporter on the scene witnessed anti-vaccination and anti-mask rhetoric, alongside a group insisting that Donald Trump won the 2020 American presidential election and another calling for the release of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. Other banners being flown bore the anarchist symbol and QAnon-related quotes. Piers Corbyn was among those seen joining in as the protest reached its peak in the early afternoon.
The protest escalated throughout the day, with Metropolitan Police tweeting: “A number of officers continue to respond to a demonstration in Parliament Square, Westminster. Eleven people have been arrested for a variety of offences. Our policing operation continues, sadly have been met with hostility engaging with crowds.” Following a police barricade of the roads leading to and from Parliament Square, several protesters reportedly threw bottles at officers on the scene. According to ITV, gatherers were also heard chanting “shame on police” and “arrest Boris Johnson”. Multiple protesters pursued our reporter, telling them to remove their mask or leave the area.
England’s so-called “Freedom Day” comes after sharp increases in Coronavirus cases and Covid-related hospitalisations over the past several weeks. As Roar writer Dani Jones recently reported, the country’s PCR testing system has also been under significant strain in the days leading to July 19. Online ordering systems for said tests suffered a “temporary glitch” on the day, telling users to “try again tomorrow”. At approximately 5:30 pm on the 19th, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that “proof of a negative test will no longer be enough” to attend large events, and that double vaccination will be mandatory for attendance by the end of September.