May 16, 2022

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Coronavirus vaccine protesters in New Zealand defy police alert to leave Parliament

Coronavirus vaccine protesters in New Zealand defy police alert to leave Parliament

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Protests against vaccine mandates swelled outside New Zealand’s parliament on Wednesday as hundreds of people ignored a police warning that their cars would be towed away if they did not leave voluntarily.

Inspired by truck drivers’ demonstrations in Canada, protesters blocked several roads around the Wellington Parliament “beehive” for nine days with trucks, vans and motorbikes, and camped out on lawns in front of the iconic building.

“There was an influx of demonstrators into Parliament today, including children. But the crowd was well-organised,” Assistant Commissioner of Police Richard Chambers told reporters. It is estimated that there are about 450 vehicles blocking the site.

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“This is a very complex situation and we are aware of the tactics we have to take so that the situation does not escalate,” Chambers added.

Police gave protesters an ultimatum on Tuesday to leave or officials would start towing and confiscating the vehicles.

Chambers said on Wednesday that police had made some progress in dealing with protest leaders and had left about a dozen vehicles voluntarily.

The protest began as a stand against mandates for a COVID-19 vaccine but these protesters have been joined by groups calling for an end to restrictions imposed on the pandemic as well as some drawing attention to other social issues such as censorship and the rights of the ethnic Maori community. At the height of the protest, thousands of demonstrators were estimated to have participated.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has referred to the demonstrations as an “imported” phenomenon and rejected calls to remove all restrictions at a time when New Zealand is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variable.

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New daily cases reached the peak of the pandemic, with more than 1,100 cases reported on Wednesday after some restrictions were eased this month.

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, largely due to stringent coronavirus border restrictions and social restrictions. It has reported a total of about 22,300 infections, including 53 deaths.

The country’s borders remain closed, and tens of thousands of New Zealand expats are isolated from their families.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon Editing by Jane Wardle

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.