Covid 19 Delta outbreak: PM Jacinda Ardern to visit Auckland as restrictions ease following major protest

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will make a long-awaited visit to Auckland the day after a massive protest at Parliament against her Government’s Covid-19 response.

About 2000 people attended the Freedoms and Rights Coalition protest on Tuesday, which started out in Civic Square before marching through central Wellington, led by dozens of motorbike riders.

Those gathered included a broad cross-section of society; young and old, and from many different ethnic and social backgrounds.

They had come from all across the country – a group of about 100 spoken to had travelled together in buses from in and around Whakatāne – and the demands and grievances were just as varied, though most were opposed generally to the Government’s use of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, what they said was an “attack” on their freedom.

Ardern said she did not have a message for the anti-vaccination protesters outside Parliament, but she did have a message for the vaccinated: “Thank you.”

“So, actually, my message would be for them. It would be to say thank you. Thank you for being vaccinated, and doing what it takes to look after one another.”

Parliament was a place people could freely protest, and there had been large protests in the past, she said,

“That does not mean what we saw here today was in any way representative of the vast majority of New Zealanders,” she said.

Indeed 89 per cent of the eligible population has now received one dose of the vaccine, and 79 per cent are now fully vaccinated.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall tweeted: “we will vaccinate more people today – in just one day- than turned up to that protest.”

There were more than 21,000 people vaccinated on Monday.

Protest signs ranged from anti-vaccine and anti-media to “Trump 2020” and far-right conspiracy theory QAnon, alongside tino rangatiratanga and United Tribes flags.

There were constant chants of “freedom now” and “we own you” – directed at Parliament – from the thousands of protesters gathered, alongside more random insults directed at media gathered to cover the event.

Ardern was also the subject of many of the protesters’ placards and criticisms, and she said she was aware of anger at her because she ran her own social media.

On Wednesday, retail will reopen in Auckland and Ardern will make her first visit to the city since the lockdowns began in mid-August.

She said she intended to meet with business representatives and those working in the health workforce and vaccination centres.

While the level 3 rules restricted what she could do, she had put in a request to be able to talk to workers at workplaces she was visiting as well.

Ardern said it was too early to say whether vaccine mandates would have to be a long-term part of New Zealand’s response, but defended the decision to use them “in the here and now”.

She said those sectors with mandates on them were those with higher risks to them.

Schoolteachers and staff are included in the mandates, their deadline approaching on November 15, and some of those protesting at Parliament were from schools.

One of the protesters, a special needs teacher of over 20 years’ experience from Whakatāne, said she was prepared to leave her job, as were many others, rather than get vaccinated.

The woman, who refused to give her name, said she was concerned about Covid-19 but didn’t trust the vaccine, nor the Government.

Murray Atkins had travelled from Gisborne with his partner for the protest. Both were opposed to the vaccine and would lose their jobs consequently.

Rewi Hare of Destiny Church addressed the crowd, saying people have gathered from “top of the North Island to the bottom of the South”.

He praised the “brave” Destiny Church leader Bishop Brian Tamaki for “standing up to the Government”, to loud cheers.

No politicians were seen in attendance at the protest, nor did any speak publicly. There was a heavy police presence throughout, and aside from some protesters pushing onto the initially closed-off forecourt, no major aggression nor incidents.

A police spokesman said there were no arrests, but there could be follow-up action.

Act Party leader David Seymour said the Government had antagonised people such as some of the protesters outside by issuing vaccine mandates.

Seymour said he hoped as many people as possible got vaccinated but people should still be given choices.

“I don’t fear those people. I fear for them,” Seymour said when asked about the crowds outside.

National Party leader Judith Collins said although some protesters appeared to have placards with violent messages, the vast majority of those gathered outside were peaceful.

The protest came as 125 Covid-19 cases were reported in the community on Tuesday, including 117 in Auckland, six in Northland and two in Waikato.

There are 79 people in hospital, including nine people in intensive care or high dependency units – up from seven yesterday.

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