Demonstrators rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall to demand the end to the states shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Demonstrators rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall to demand the end to the states shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
PIC: AFP

Californians weary of stay-at-home orders that have left millions unemployed staged displays of defiance Friday, with hundreds of flag-waving protesters gathering at the Capitol and along a famed Southern California beach, while a sparsely populated county on the Oregon border allowed diners back in restaurants and reopened other businesses.

While much of the state's population remained behind closed doors to deter the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged the building anxiety while repeatedly teasing the possibility the state could begin relaxing some aspects of the restrictions next week.

"We are all impatient," the governor said during his daily briefing, adding "We have to be really deliberative on how we reopen this economy." Newsom noted the state just passed the grim marks of 50,000 confirmed infections and 2,000 deaths but that hospitalisation statistics are heading in a better direction and that has him hopeful.

"We can screw all that up. We can set all that back by making bad decisions," he said.

"All of that works because people have done an incredible job in their physical distancing." In Sacramento, as police lined steps outside the Capitol, protesters waved signs that said "Defend Freedom" and broke into "U-S-A" chants, most eschewing face masks intended to deter spread of the virus.

A small plane circled overhead, displaying a banner carrying an image of Newsom's face and the slogan, "End his tyranny." Joe Ranciato from Roseville, California, showed up to the protest inside a homemade "socially distancing cage," made with plastic pipes and duct tape.

"I'm really fed up with what's going on," said Ranciato, 58. "I don't like my freedom to be put in jeopardy." There were about a dozen organized rallies in cities including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

In downtown Huntington Beach, known for its world-renowned surf break, protesters swarmed the streets, backing up traffic for at least a mile along Pacific Coast Highway.

A day earlier, Newsom ordered all beaches in Orange County to close temporarily, after thousands last weekend sprawled on the sand in Huntington Beach and nearby Newport Beach.

People waved American flags from their car windows and carried signs reading "Open Cali now." A plane buzzed overhead with a sign reading "Fire gruesome Newsom! Open California." While the beach was officially closed by Newsom's order, people continued to walk on the sand and on a popular bike trail in a park overlooking the shoreline.

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