Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Three arrested amid heated day of protests at Parliament

Police are remaining tight-lipped over whether they will try to shift hundreds of protesters camped outside Parliament calling for an end to vaccine mandates.

Three men were arrested yesterday after a small group attempted to breach gates set up on the Parliamentary forecourt as a barrier preventing access to the main buildings.

The men – aged 61, 57 and 50 – were charged with obstruction and were bailed to appear in the Wellington District Court next Monday.

The men were also issued trespass notices. They were the only protesters trespassed, police said.

Police last night said they continued “to engage with organisers from the different groups present” and that staff would remain on Parliament grounds overnight.

While most of the day was peaceful, there were reports of members of the public being abused by protesters, including a 17-year-old girl who had eggs hurled at her because she was wearing a mask. Singer Hollie Smith tweeted that a friend had been punched as she walked past.

There was tension mid-morning when parliamentary security accompanied by police spoke with protest organisers. One organiser angrily began yelling abuse.

A crowd gathered around and also began verbally abusing the media present.

Police at that stage took no action against the protesters.

Just after 3pm a small group attempted to breach the gates and the three arrests were made.

In a statement just after 10pm last night, Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said police and parliamentary security staff had earlier made an approach to organisers “on behalf of the Speaker of the House, to request the removal of tents and all structures within Parliament grounds.

“This did not constitute a trespass notice.”

Parnell indicated earlier that police were willing to wait the protesters out.

Police would “continue to monitor activity”, recognising people had a right to peaceful protest.

Due to parked vehicles, a small part of Molesworth St last night remained impassable to through traffic and the area around Parliament, including the northern end of Lambton Quay and lower Bowen St, should be avoided, Parnell said.

Earlier, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House declined to say if they felt the protesters should be moved on, saying it was a matter for police.

Media have been asked not to report from the Parliament grounds, with the Speaker citing safety concerns.

As media attempted to report on the protest, threats were hurled at them, including for reporters to “watch your backs on the street tonight” and even that they would be “executed” for their reporting.

Many also criticised mainstream media for not reporting on the protest.

Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper spoke to several protesters.

Helen Coster told Soper she worked for the New Zealand Defence Force and declined to get the vaccine due to an underlying health condition, which she felt would put her at risk.

As her profession fell under a mandate she said she had been told her job would be terminated on March 1.

“I feel I am in a no-win situation. I have been a loyal employee for nine years. I moved to Ohakea with my 13-year-old son and family. I am heartbroken and betrayed.”

Another protester, who declined to give his name, said he felt the mandates were causing division.

“We have never been so divided in our history,” he said.

“I just look around the people who have joined this movement, representing every colour, creed, age bracket, all speaking in one voice to end the mandates.”

He said because he did not allow his 13-year-old daughter to be vaccinated, the sprint champion could not compete in athletics.

While protesters united under the banner of opposing mandates, the Herald viewed a vast array of concerns, including misinformation about vaccines and natural immunity, along with protests about Oranga Tamariki, Three Waters reforms and even about saving Marsden Point near Whangārei.

Politicians have been universal in their condemnation of the protest messages around vaccine misinformation, while also supporting their right to protest.

No MP greeted the protesters, as often happens during protests at Parliament.

The Prime Minister said while she was concerned about misinformation, the right of protesters to be there was “a part of New Zealand”.

“I’ve seen a range of protests over my time and this is certainly not large in scale. And not representative of the vast majority of New Zealanders.”

Asked about some of the views being portrayed, including that natural immunity was more effective than the vaccines, Ardern said it was concerning.

“We should all be concerned about misinformation. Not just Covid and vaccines but generally.

“There is a core here where actually they think that they’re trying to save everyone else.

“It is very hard to have a conversation about facts when they question everything. But remember – it’s a small group – keep it in perspective.

“The only reason they can move around is because [the] majority of people are getting vaccinated.”

Asked why police did not simply move them along, particularly given it could be a “superspreader event”, Ardern said these decisions were for police, as were decisions around traffic control.

“You would never want a government in charge. That is always a call for police.

“People often protest on the front lawn of Parliament. It is part of New Zealand.”

National Party Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said the protesters denied “the fundamental science behind vaccination”.

“We fundamentally as a Parliament believe in the science of vaccination and it’s really important we stand collectively together to send that message.

“But at the end of the day they have the right to protest.”

About 50 tents remained on Parliament grounds and estimates are of about 700 people gathered.

Protesters have shown no indication of when they would move on, and there are reports more will arrive from across the country in coming days.

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