Jacinda Ardern says major anti-vax protests ‘not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders’

Thousands of people protested outside the country’s parliament in Wellington

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 09 November 2021 11:21
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Large crowds gather in Wellington to protest Covid lockdown, vaccine mandates

Thousands of people gathered in New Zealand’s capital Wellington on Tuesday to protest against the government’s Covid-19 mandates but prime minister Jacinda Ardern said they did not represent the majority of the island nation.

Ms Ardern was responding to the chaotic scenes outside the two entrances leading to New Zealand’s parliament building, which have been rocked by protests from unmasked anti-vaxxers who marched to the area from central Wellington.

They carried placards with words and phrases such as “freedom” and “Kiwis are not lab rats.” The protesters sought a rollback of the country’s compulsory vaccine mandate and a removal of Covid-19 restrictions.

One protester participating in the march said: “I will not be coerced and I will not be forced into taking something I don’t want in my body.” Some protestors also backed former US president Donald Trump, calling the media fake.

Another protestor asked the New Zealand government to “treat them like people” when it comes to creating vaccine mandates. “I’m here for freedom. The government, what they’re doing, is anti-freedom,” the protestor said.

According to the government’s latest rules in October, about 40 per cent of New Zealand’s workforce will be subject to vaccine mandates in their jobs, including in the health, education and hospitality sectors.

“What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders,” Ms Ardern told reporters outside the parliament. Security measures were beefed up around the parliament, and almost all its entrances were shut off. The building was later put on high alert.

The size of Tuesday’s protest was surprising as Ms Ardern’s government has, by far enjoyed high levels of public support so far. The protests came in the wake of the country recovering from an infectious outbreak of the Delta variant amid vaccine hesitancy.

New Zealand has been one of the very few countries to prevent a large-scale outbreak of the virus through its zero-tolerance approach. The country of five million people declared itself Covid-free and went back to regular life when most countries were still under lockdown.

However, ravaged by the Delta variant of the virus, the prime minister abandoned the ambitious zero-Covid strategy and has focussed on bolstering the vaccination drive while phasing out restrictions.

So far, New Zealand has seen less than 8,000 Covid infections and only 32 deaths. Nearly 80 per of New Zealanders have been vaccinated.

Additional reporting by agencies

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