Protest organiser Harrison McLean and Leila Melki's COVID test that appears to be positive (Images: Rumble, Instagram)

Many leaders and influencers of protests against COVID-19 public health restrictions are reporting feeling under the weather, sharing stories of symptoms that are consistent with a COVID infection. And in one case sharing what appears to be a positive test.

On Monday, 19 people who had attended Melbourne protests had tested positive, according to the Nine papers. Of those, one unvaccinated person was admitted to hospital. 

Although previous protests such as the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and other anti-lockdown demonstrations haven’t had any known transmission, the emergence of the Omicron variant, the lack of safety protocols at the “freedom rallies” and sheer bad luck means transmission is possible. 

Assuming that attendees distrust the health system and are sceptical about the existence or severity of COVID, those numbers are likely to be less than the true number of those who may have caught the virus.

But whether they’ve contracted COVID, the common flu, or are just exhausted from weeks of non-stop protesting over a grab bag of misguided grievances, many of the top figures in the protest movements say they’re not feeling too good. In a picture posted to her nearly 12,000 followers on Instagram, conspiracy talk show host Leila Melki shared an at home COVID test result with the caption: “For everyone’s peace of mind, I don’t have covid.”

But as anti-fascist researcher and YouTube creator Tom Tanuki spotted, the test appeared to show a weak positive response.

Another prominent member of anti-vaccine and conspiracy circles, Matt Lawson, also complained on a livestream of feeling sick after attending the rallies. But it’s not COVID, he claims, but instead “the stuff they are spraying in the sky above Parliament”. 

Harrison McLean, an organiser of the Melbourne rallies and someone who reportedly claimed he wanted to use the protests to introduce people to more extreme ideologies, was observed repeatedly coughing and sounding unwell during a stream last week.

And a couple of days after the weekend protests, anti-vaccine activist, prospective United Australia Party candidate and fiancé to the head of Australia’s most active anti-vaxxer group, Morgan C Jonas, also cancelled his online media appearances because “burning the candle at both ends has caught up with me”.

Sounds like this exhaustion — or whatever it is — is contagious.