New Zealand police have moved to start clearing up the roads near Parliament in the capital Wellington, where protesters have clogged the roads with vehicles for more than a week.
But there has also been a significant increase in illegally parked vehicles in the area.
Some streets around Parliament could not be used since people protesting against covid-19 vaccine mandates clogged the roads with their vehicles, with public transport in the capital also having to be re-routed.
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On Thursday, police estimated more than 400 cars, vans and campervans were ensconced in several streets alongside Parliament and today that estimate grew to 800.
The protest, which began on February 8, drew a crowd of more than 1000 people today.
Yesterday, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said they were expecting more people to turn up to the protest over the weekend, and that they would implement a traffic management plan.
Despite police previously warning protesters to move their vehicles or face towing, they did not end up acting on the ultimatum, fearing an escalation.
Tow trucks relocating vehicles
But on Saturday afternoon, tow trucks were seen relocating illegally parked cars near Wellington railway station.
In a statement, police said there was an increase of people attending the protest today, as was anticipated.
“Police cleared illegally parked vehicles on Thorndon Quay today — 15 were moved by protesters after police spoke with them and two were towed.
“Police are also noting the registration of vehicles currently impeding traffic for follow up enforcement action, and structures such as tents and marquees are being removed from any site that does not form part of the main protest area.”
The cars were parked in the median strip in the middle of the road, and appear to be relocated to the side of the road.
Over a dozen police cleared traffic in the area and directed pedestrians to move away, when a small crowd began to gather.
Further up the road, traffic cones with “no parking” signs have been laid down on the curb of Bowen Street, where many cars remain illegally parked.
Sky Stadium at capacity
Police said the parking facility at Sky Stadium was at capacity, after they had previously encouraged protesters to move their vehicles there.
But they said they had “serious concerns” about health and safety as a concert at the protest site has been planned.
“We continue to maintain a highly visible, reassurance presence on site, and staff are engaging with the public and protesters to provide advice and, where necessary, take enforcement action.”
Police said they have attended at least six medical events within the protest and continued to urge anyone parked unlawfully to remove their vehicle to allow emergency services access.
Business and community leaders have been calling for an end to the blockade, saying it was adding stress to nearby residents and users.
Meanwhile, Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said protesters in Picton had made it clear they would not be moving until their counterparts in Wellington do.
Leggett said the council had been in contact with leaders of the action in Nelson Square, who had made their position clear.
He said the Picton occupiers were linked to the Wellington anti-mandate protest.
“To put it the other way, if Wellington [protest] is resolved, we will get a resolution here, a peaceful resolution, and they’ve made it very clear that their occupation is linked entirely to what’s happening in Wellington so there needs to be some way of resolving the Wellington situation.”
Police today said they were also maintaining a presence at that protest, as well as another one in Christchurch.
1901 new community cases – down slightly
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health reported that the number of new daily community cases of covid-19 has fallen slightly from yesterday’s record, with 1901 new cases today.
There were also 14 cases identified at the border, including five historical cases.
There was a record 1929 community cases reported yesterday.
There have now been 28,360 cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand since the pandemic began.
The ministry said there are 76 people in hospital with the coronavirus. None are in ICU.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.