Many central Wellington shops face a crisis, university buildings have been closed for eight weeks and many report major disruptions from the illegal anti-vaccination mandates protest at New Zealand’s Parliament, with people’s patience wearing thin and calls for more decisive action.
Retail NZ said the road blocks and disruption were a disaster for local stores. Some retailers had had to close while others were reducing their operating hours.
Chief executive Greg Harford said very few customers were visiting the central city area of the capital near Parliament, which includes some of Wellington’s prime shopping.
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“Things were bad before the protests, with the move to the red traffic light setting, but protests and the disruption associated with them are really just keeping customers away from town. Foot traffic is down and sales and down,” he said.
Harford said the government needed to reintroduce the wage subsidy for all businesses affected by omicron — and that the need was particularly acute in Wellington.
Yesterday about 30 Wellington community leaders, including regional mayors, MPs, business leaders and principals signed a letter urging an immediate end to the illegal camp.
Last night Victoria University of Wellington announced its Pipitea campus, which is occupied by the protesters, would remain closed until April 11 to protect staff and students’ health and safety.
Students, disappointed, harassed
Student president Ralph Zambrano said he understood the decision, but students were disappointed more was not done to stop the protest before it disrupted the education they are paying thousands of dollars for.
He said students supported peaceful protest, but they had been subject to harassment and intimidation for 11 days.
The association is running a petition calling for the protesters to be peacefully relocated so the buildings can reopen before April, and now has more than 8000 signatures.
“We want there to be further efforts now to avoid the disruption lasting as long as they’ve set it out to be… which is why we’re going to continue to put pressure for peaceful action,” Zambrano said.
A Wellington City Missioner called on the protesters to go home because of the negative impact on the city’s most vulnerable.
Murray Edridge said it was harder to get around the city and more difficult to access services.
Some streets can’t be used as they’re clogged with protesters’ vehicles, public transport in the capital has had to be re-routed and the mission’s food delivery to people who are isolating with covid-19 and people in need had been disrupted.
Noise, disruption cause extreme anxiety
Edridge said the noise and disruption from protesters was causing extreme anxiety for some, and the mission was also worried about the health risk the large gathering presented.
“The people that come to help us have all been impacted by this. It’s getting very trying on people, and just enhancing the stress on both those who we’re here to serve, and those who are here to serve.”
Edridge said he had no issue with a gathering on the lawns of Parliament, but the blocking of streets was unacceptable.
Meanwhile, an RNZ reporter at the protest site said it was already busy at 10am, the busiest they had seen at that time.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster yesterday said at last count there were about 800 protesters but police expected a “significant number” of people to join the protest over the weekend.
Canadian police clash with anti-vaccine protesters
In Ottawa, the Canadian police have clashed with protesters in the capital as they moved to end an anti-vaccine mandate demonstration.
The operation started early on Friday morning in downtown Ottawa with 70 arrests made.
Police have accused protesters of using children as a shield between lines of officers and the protest site.
The police action came after the government invoked the Emergencies Act to crack down on the three-week protest.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.