Some residents of the area around New Zealand’s Parliament in the capital Wellington are worried about leaving their houses with protesters outside, while police say they will clamp down on any abusive behaviour.
Protesters have been occupying Parliament’s lawn and surrounding areas for close to two weeks.
The growing frustration with the protesters comes as 111,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to the anti-mandates occupation, the indigenous National Māori Authority has organised a counter-protest and new covid-19 cases have hit a record 2522 today as the omicron variant spreads.
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Today’s 100 people in hospital was also the largest total of the outbreak.
According to RNZ data, hospitalisations hit highs of 93 cases twice in November.
In 2020’s first covid-19 outbreak, the highest number of people in hospital at one time was 89.
None of the 100 hospital cases announced today were in intensive care units. The hospital cases are mostly in Auckland, but there are also cases in Waikato, Tauranga, Rotorua and Tairāwhiti.
Number in hospital grows
The number of people in hospital has been growing steadily all week as new cases rose, and has tripled since 32 people were in hospital on February 13.
According to the Ministry of Health’s website, as of February 19 a total of 836 people had been hospitalised during the pandemic, and 69 people were in ICU care.
A Hill St resident who asked not to be named said the protest had spread further so he was now living in the middle of it.
During the occupation, he said protesters had tried to remove his housemate’s mask, and other residents had been verbally abused for wearing one, including himself.
The protest appeared to be “anti-everything covid”, not just anti-mandate, he said.
“If it was a more nuanced protest around mandates, you’d see people wearing masks. The reality is there’s nobody wearing masks there.
“It’s a complete denial of the risk of covid whatsoever, which is really concerning. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if people were wearing masks.”
The resident has been going to his work every day to avoid being around the protest and said his neighbours had also gone away.
He didn’t feel entirely safe having to walk past and through hundreds of unmasked people to get home, he said.
Policing being strengthened
In a statement tonight, New Zealand police said that they were strengthening the policing of abusive behaviour around the protest, as well as traffic management and road traffic controls.
“Regular reassurance patrols of local businesses have been increased,” police said.
“Staff have also been instructed to take a zero-tolerance approach to any abuse, intimidation or violence against members of the public.”
Police said there would be an increased presence around the start and end of each day.
“Anyone abusing or intimidating members of the public can expect to be arrested, removed and face charges,” they said.
The Wellington Hill St resident wanted protesters to wear a mask, for the streets to be cleared so people could walk freely without harassment, and for protesters to stick to the lawns of Parliament.
“I am furious about the occupation of the bus exchange, I mean it’s a parking lot campsite now.
Standstill of public infrastructure
“That doesn’t affect the politicians. It’s not going to change anyone’s view on mandates, all it creates is a complete standstill of public infrastructure in Wellington. It’s nothing but disruptive.”
While he wanted to see the streets cleared, he was concerned that he could end up in the middle of a riot if the police stepped in.
“If we see the break out of a riot — which I think if police do eventually move in is a real possibility — it will be instigated by those more extreme people, but the reality of mob rule and people who feel pissed off is that they will join in.
“And all of a sudden, we will be right in the middle of a riot.”
Residents were contacted by the protesters about a week ago to see if they’d allow a medical tent to be set up in garages or a back garden who they told to contact the public health service, he said.
“If we were having a party on the street, A – it would get shut down, and B – it wouldn’t be masking over that more like dangerous underbelly of the whole thing whereby people are still being abused.”
Police said that parked vehicles around the protest area had swelled to approximately 2000 on Saturday, with about 800 of those illegally parked. A small number of vehicles were towed.
Police said engagement with protest leaders had been “positive” over the weekend.
“Security and safety” were the focus of talks, police said in their statement.
Meanwhile, a counter protest is being launched in response to the Parliament occupation.
— Matthew Tukaki (@tukakimatt) February 19, 2022
Matthew Tukaki from the National Māori Authority said an overwhelming number of people had been in touch with him saying they had had enough.
He said the vast number of Wellingtonians were fed up with the disruption to their lives, the abuse and the desecration of the memories of servicemen and women.
Tukaki said it would be an online protest without confrontation, intimidation, abuse or threatening behaviour.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.