WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – The number of cars and trucks blocking the streets outside New Zealand’s Parliament was less yesterday, although more protesters were expected to arrive for the weekend, including some by boat.
For more than two weeks, protesters against coronavirus vaccine mandates have been camping outside Parliament, their numbers dropping during the weekdays and then swelling to the thousands over the weekends.
The protest action comes as coronavirus case numbers surge in New Zealand.
Health authorities yesterday reported a record 12,000 new cases – almost double the previous record set Thursday and up from about 2,000 per day a week ago.
The Ministry of Health this week listed the protest site as a location of interest in the outbreak.
Those who oppose vaccine mandates claimed a victory yesterday after a judge ruled in favour of a group of police and military workers who argued that a mandate affecting them unduly infringed their rights. The ruling will allow about 280 unvaccinated workers to keep their jobs for now.
Police have been reluctant to use force to break up the protest, but over the past week have reduced vehicle numbers by placing concrete barriers around the protest and allowing cars to leave but not return. That has reduced the number of vehicles from about 800 to 300.
Authorities had a blunt message for those planning to join the protest.
“Police would like to reiterate the warning to those thinking of travelling to Wellington to participate in the unlawful protest this weekend – don’t,” they said in a statement. Police also urged protesters to take home an estimated 30 children from the protest site, saying it wasn’t safe.
But maritime authorities confirmed yesterday that some private boats were already heading toward the capital.
“We are aware vessels left Picton this morning to cross the Cook Strait to Wellington,” said deputy director at Maritime New Zealand Nigel Clifford. “It isn’t yet known how many vessels are currently en route or plan to make the trip.”
Many protesters had been stuck on the South Island because they didn’t want to travel on ferries, which require passengers to show a vaccine pass or negative test.