Protesters surround Parliament . . .
In areas immediately surrounding Parliament in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, an anti-COVID mandate protest is entering its eighteenth day. Protesters have blocked streets, erected tents, and are demanding an end to a range of public health responses to COVID-19, including mask mandates, business capacity restrictions, and mandatory vaccinations for certain essential workers. Protest leaders are demanding the government engage in dialogue with them and end COVID restrictions. However, all parties in Parliament agreed through a joint statement issued last week that they would not engage with protesters until they ceased illegal activities. Police are maintaining a cordon separating protesters from Parliament and have made arrests. Protesters are promising a resurgence in action this weekend.
Competing narratives . . .
The Wellington protests were organized in the days following the Canadian ‘freedom convoy’ demonstrations reaching Ottawa and have taken similar forms. While mainstream media have faced resistance from demonstrators when trying to cover the protests, reports from multiple sources suggest protesters’ demands have lost focus over time, just as they did in Ottawa.. While some are seeking an audience with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and an end to public health mandates, others are espousing far-right conspiracy theories and alleging treason on the part of elected officials. Ardern has described the protesters as a “small handful of people” who are at odds with the 95 per cent of New Zealanders who have chosen to be vaccinated. Christopher Luxon, leader of the opposition National Party, has been accused by multiple analysts of suggesting the protesters’ opinions and goals are shared by many New Zealanders, a claim he denies. The country’s human rights commissioner has publicly called on the government to listen to protesters in the interest of fostering inclusion.
Protests amid country’s biggest COVID spike . . .
The protests are taking place as New Zealand witnessed more than 6,000 positive COVID cases on Thursday, nearly double the previous record high reported the previous day. Thursday’s case count is the first to include those identified using Rapid Antigen Tests in addition to those identified with PCR tests, a move demonstrating that bolstering the availability of private and in-home testing can give a more accurate reflection of virus spread. Cases are reported in all parts of the country, including in more than 700 schools or early learning centres. Meanwhile, a large anti-mandate protest march is being planned for the Auckland Harbour Bridge, an arterial connector in the country’s largest city, this weekend. Police have indicated they will block any such activity.