By Susan Botting, Local Democracy Reporting journalist
A Kaipara district councillor’s almost week-long participation in New Zealand’s anti-covid-19 mandate protest at Parliament is jeopardising the safety of Kaipara residents, warns Mayor Dr Jason Smith.
Dr Smith said he was particularly worried about those in the councillor’s West Coast/Central council ward which had Kaipara’s lowest vaccination rates.
The councillor was participating in a likely “superspreader” event when health authorities yesterday reported a surge to a record 1160 covid-19 cases.
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Anti-mandate campaigner and Kaipara District Council (KDC) councillor Victoria del la Varis-Woodcock left Kaipara for the Wellington anti-vaccine, anti-mandate protest on Thursday, February 10, and was still there yesterday.
She declined to say when she would be returning home. She also dismissed Dr Smith’s safety concerns as “nonsensical”.
Since arriving at the protest, del la Varis-Woodcock has addressed thousands of protesters through a megaphone, calling for the government’s covid-19 legislation to be immediately repealed.
“My name is Victoria del la Varis-Woodcock and I have a message, repeal all covid-19 legislation now,” she has told thousands of Wellington protesters.
Declined to comment
She declined to comment on whether she was representing any of the groups participating in the protest.
Del la Varis-Woodcock has previously told Local Democracy Reporting that elected representatives needed to be role models.
“Elected members need to be role models, need to stand for values of respect, of civil liberties and human rights,” she said.
A video of del la Varis-Woodcock’s speech is circulating online, including accompanying reference to her being a protest organiser, which she said was not the case, in response to Local Democracy Reporting clarification questioning.
The video has been viewed almost 3000 times, amid a protest that started on Tuesday, 8 February 8, and is now entering its ninth day.
She said protesters would be continuing their mission, regardless of water being sprayed or music being played, until the government repealed “draconian” laws it had enacted around the virus.
Del la Varis-Woodcock has been a local government elected representative since 2016.
She said she was not at the protest as a KDC councillor. instead, she was there as a protester exercising her individual rights. It was possible to separate the two.
Mayor Dr Smith said being a councillor was a 24/7 365-day-a-year role.
Dr Smith said del la Varis-Woodcock was entitled to her opinions, but being an elected representative brought a unique position of leadership in her local community that needed to be taken into account.
“As an elected representative there are all sorts of responsibilities to the people and organisation of the council. It is a 24/7, seven day a week role. You don’t get to suddenly be someone else. That’s part of the responsibility of this role,” Dr Smith said.
He said her protest participation was “worrisome” in terms of Kaipara residents’ health and safety.
“It’s a long way to travel from Kaipara to a likely superspreader event during the height of a pandemic with a heightened risk of bringing the virus back here,” Smith said.
That was particularly the case with Omicron rates increasing through the community, he said.
Low vaccination rate
Dr Smith said he was particularly worried about people in del la Varis-Woodcock’s West Coast/Central council ward. Latest available figures showed Māori in this area had a double vaccination rate of just over 71 percent (76.5 percent single dose rate).
Overall, there was a just over 78 percent double vaccination rate and just under 82 percent single vaccinated, he said.
Del la Varis-Woodcock said being at the protest did not compromise being able to carry out her role as a councillor.
She said she would be participating virtually from Wellington in KDC’s District Plan review meeting. The meeting was being held face-to-face in Dargaville Town Hall.
Del la Varis-Woodcock also participated virtually while councillors gathered face-to-face for KDC’s first 2022 meeting, in the same venue on February 2. A vaccination passport is required to enter the building.
Mayor Dr Smith said del la Varis-Woodcock had not provided this.
Del la Varis-Woodcock declined today to confirm her vaccination status, including whether she was unvaccinated.
She has previously told Local Democracy Reporting that was her personal information.
Del la Varis-Woodcock describes herself on her Facebook page as “environmentalist, district councillor, mother, artist and lover of language”.
The page shares posts including against vaccination passports and concerns over media representations regarding the virus.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air. Published by Asia Pacific Report in collaboration.