Two protesters positive for Covid at Parliament occupation

Source: 1News

Relive 1News' live updates on day 16 of the anti-mandate protests outside Parliament.

Protesters' tents near Parliament on day 16.

What you need to know:

- The protest at Parliament entered its 16th day

- One person was arrested for disorderly behaviour

- Some police and protesters have tested positive for Covid-19

- A visible presence will remain at Parliament overnight

- The police perimeter around the protest was tightened on Monday and even further on Tuesday

- Police say genuine protesters are no longer in control of behaviour in and around Parliament

7.20pm: Watch 1News' 6pm report on day 16 of the protest in the video below.

5.30pm: Winston Peters has issued a statement following his tour of the protest on Tuesday. He says it should have ended "weeks ago".

"If the government had opened dialogue on day one – as governments have done with every other protest on the grounds of parliament, we wouldn’t be in this position to begin with," he said.

"The reason they didn’t is because, for the first time in living memory, every politician from the Prime Minister down signed a pact not to engage with a lawfully democratic protest on parliament grounds.

"This protest needs to end. The violence needs to end. The disruption needs to end. It should have ended weeks ago.

"My presence at the protest yesterday was for one reason and one reason only – to show that if any politician has the guts to go and engage they can. It was not to endorse the protest or protesters, nor of course to signal any sort of support for the minority who continue to exhibit violent behaviour. It is plain to see that if dialogue is not established soon things will just continue to get much worse.

"This is not a policing problem, this is a political problem. If the government continues to ignore and gas-light the protesters it will make the Springbok Tour protest look like a Mickey Mouse concert," Peters said.

5.10pm: The Ministry of Health has been told of at least two positive test results among the group of protesters.

"Due to privacy concerns, we are not in a position to confirm whether or not they were arrested by police," a ministry spokesperson said.

"Those who have tested positive have been instructed to isolate themselves."

It comes as Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says “a number of staff” working on the frontlines of the Parliament occupation have tested positive for Covid-19.

“A number of staff are isolating having tested positive,” he said.

Coster said earlier on Wednesday, the police staff were working as part of one team together on the ground at the protests.

It follows another day of record cases with 3297 new infections and 179 people in hospital on Wednesday.

4.25pm: Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says he’s ‘hugely disappointed’ several schools in Wellington have closed amid the protest.

"Obviously there's been a bit of online learning as a result of Covid over the last couple of years and to now have the occupation of Parliament grounds causing this is massively disappointing," he said, speaking at a media conference on Wednesday.

He said the behaviour of some protesters have resulted in teachers and students being abused, spat on and harassed.

"So you can understand why they want to avoid that. There is a very simple solution to this - the protesters should leave."

Asked what he thought of his predecessor (Winston Peters) visiting the site, Robertson also said he didn't agree with anyone visiting the protest, saying it's an illegal occupation, no one is wearing masks and he expects most of the crowd are unvaccinated.

Peters toured the crowd on Tuesday sans mask. Former New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball was also with him.

In a tweet after his visit, Peters said he wanted to "listen to the protesters and hear their side of the story".

3.45pm: On Thursday, February 24, at midday Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield will make an announcement outlining changes to deal with the Omicron peak.

It is likely to be a move to Phase 3 – with relaxed rules now there are several thousand new cases a day.

3pm: A St Mary's College student has spoken out over what she has endured after walking past the protest on her way to school.

“This whole thing has been so traumatic and so overwhelming for me. Having to take off my mask to feel safe and comfortable walking to and from the train station because I know I won’t get approached if I’m not wearing it.

"It is actually really annoying because I’m putting my self at risk just so I don’t have to deal with them but I’d rather feel safe then repeat what happened to me not long ago. I don't know I just want things to back to normal because I hate this," she said.

Her sibling told 1News on Tuesday their sister hadn’t been able to go to the school for a week because she was tormented and verbally abused by protesters for wearing a mask.

The person alleged her sister was spat on when she didn’t give protesters attention.

2.45pm: St Mary's College in Wellington is the second school to close due to the ongoing threats brought about by the protest. It comes after Wellington Girls’ College announced it will be shut until at least next Tuesday, with the school citing an “increasingly volatile” situation with protesters at Parliament.

Principal of St Mary's College, Andrew Murray, addressed the closure in a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon.

"As you are aware, the protests surrounding Parliament have created a significant number of issues. Thank you to those of you who have contacted me to express your concerns – it is greatly appreciated. Yesterday's mood and the events in Molesworth Street have caused us to reconsider our approach.

"I've spoken with the Board and they've agreed to allow students to learn from home tomorrow, Thursday 24 February. We will remain online until Tuesday, 1 March.

"I will consult the Board on Sunday 27 February to assess the situation, and we will communicate with you following that meeting.

"The reasons our decision are:

- It is unsafe to walk around Thorndon's shops - there are numerous protestors at Thorndon New World who are not wearing masks and are challenging those who do.

- Due to the inability of school buses to operate, students are being dropped off further into the city and made to walk past protestors.

- Numerous parents, students, and staff have expressed concern about the current level of safety in Thorndon."

1.55pm: Ardern addressed the verbal abuse she received earlier today in a stand-up from Westport. She said the following: “Since we’ve had vaccines come into New Zealand as part of our pandemic response, there have been those opposed to them. That’s been something I’ve had on my visits from time to time ever since we’ve been vaccinating people. It’s not new.

"I choose not to focus on what is often a small handful of people. Instead I focus on the majority of people who have gone out — 99 per cent of them have been vaccinated and that is what is going to get us through.”

1.43pm: One of our cameramen went for a walk through the protest area on Lambton Quay this morning. The streets seemed rather quiet.

Two men were seen with a trolley-full of rubbish bags. They were checking to see if anyone had any rubbish to drop off at the local collection point on Kate Sheppard Place.

1News understands the earlier rubbish pile on the street has been cleared.

1.35pm: 1News understands staff members on the ground floor of Parliament closest to the protesters have been asked to work from home over safety concerns.

The large Parliamentary Library is now empty. No staff are working from there. Some protesters are camping out around the front area of the library.

1.28pm: There are 3297 new Covid-19 community cases on Wednesday. It is the first time they have surpassed 3000.

A total of 179 people are in hospital with the virus, including one person in an intensive care or high dependency unit.

1.20pm: Police have just put out an update. It says a number of motorists on Molesworth St voluntarily moved their vehicles overnight.

Police say officers and Sky Stadium staff will be onsite on Thursday to help manage the smooth exit of vehicles, which, as we covered earlier, is no longer offering free parking for protesters.

There were no arrests overnight. There was a report a man was walking with a firearm in Frank Kitts Park at about 7.20am this morning, but police said he was not found with one. It appeared he was carrying what looked like a taiaha instead.

"Constructive discussions with protesters are ongoing and police continue to allow the service of both food supplies and portaloos at the protest, although vehicles are not permitted through any of the police-controlled cordons to enter the area."

12.30pm: Greater Wellington Regional Council, Maritime NZ and police are on standby after reports were shared online of more private vessels planning to leave Picton with supplies and protesters onboard.

“We have been working closely with the police and Maritime NZ to put advice out to any would be adventurers. Crossing the Strait is not for the faint-hearted — a degree of experience is needed to understand both the dangers that exist and the obligations of operating a vessel in our region,” Greater Wellington's harbourmaster, Grant Nalder, said in a statement.

Councillor Penny Gaylor echoed Nalder's comments: “Our region has had to endure significant disruption because of the actions of some protesters and we don’t want that spilling, literally or figuratively, into our waters. We need to continue to ensure our waters remain a place that all people can access, enjoy and use.”

The statement said a vessel from Picton was pictured delivering protesters and supplies at Wellington's Queens Wharf on Monday.

Advice from the harbourmaster on crossing the Cook Strait can be found here.

12pm: In an effort to de-escalate the protest at Parliament, Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt has started a "conciliatory process with a section of protesters".

He met with representatives from Voices for Freedom, the Freedom and Rights Coalition and "independents" on Tuesday. Police were also in attendance.

“The job given to the Human Rights Commission, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, by Parliament is to listen, conciliate, educate and advance human rights and responsibilities for all” he said.

Concrete barriers around the protest's perimeter on day 16.

“It’s clear that the protesters who I have met with have very real stories of loss and suffering. They feel broken and discarded due to the impact of Covid-19 health measures on their lives.

“These are people who have told us they have lost loved ones, who say they have suffered severe side-effects of vaccination and lost jobs.

“I have a duty to listen to their concerns to understand how their human rights have been impacted.

“In my discussions, I make it clear that I am not affirming their views and I condemn the outrageous conduct of some protesters. I also acknowledge the harmful impact the protest has had on many in our community.”

Hunt said listening to the claims of the protesters is an important contribution to help prevent the protests from dragging across months or turning into further violence, as other Covid-related protests overseas have.

“In such a heated, fraught moment, we have to move from fear, to hope, and that cannot be done without listening and talking.”

He said the ongoing process will involve mana whenua, police, the Human Rights Commission's chief mediator and Wellington Mayor Andy Foster.

Hunt said he had asked the prime minister to ensure the Government engages in the "constructive process".

11.23am: The prime minister is in Westport in the wake of recent floods.

While there she copped verbal abuse from a handful of protesters. She was sworn and shouted at as she left the NBS Theatre by vehicle to see flood damaged areas.

A handful of protesters in Westport on February 23.

Jacinda Ardern in Westport while being heckled by protesters.

10.56am: The protest at Parliament has been described by a 1News reporter as "pretty quiet there". There appears to be not as many people mulling around the stalls and protest numbers look to have dwindled.

The number of people camped around the Lambton Quay-Bowen St corner have dropped.

On Tuesday, police moved concrete barriers around the area to stop more protest vehicles entering.

There are less tents around, apparently making the thoroughfare much easier to get through.

Only a few protesters are sitting around their tents, a much lower number than before.

However, protesters are still standing on the corner of Lambton and Bowen with anti-vaccine signs.

The anti-mandate protest at Parliament on day 16.

10.47am: Returning to the medical event which occurred at the protest grounds earier this morning. The DHB says the patient has been discharged.

10.26am: Protesters parked in Sky Stadium will no longer be able to do so for free from 6am on Thursday.

A protester has posted in one of the protest Facebook groups a letter from the police and stadium management.

It was apparently handed out by Red Security staff.

The letter says protesters will have to pay the daily parking fee of $15 or receive an infringement ticket from CarePark for $65.

Repeat infringements will result in their vehicles being towed.

Tents and shelters will also need to be packed down and removed by 6am on Thursday.

"Thank you for your cooperation and for respecting the car park during your stay," the letter reads.

Sky Stadium CEO Shane Harmon has confirmed to 1News the letter is legitimate.

10.06am: A petition by the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) calling on the Government, police and council to give their campus back has received more than 28,000 signatures.

It was created six days ago and asks authorities to move protesters on from the grounds of Pipitea campus and free up critical bus routes before trimester one begins on Monday next week.

"We want to see action now. Not complacency," the petition says.

The campus has been temporarily closed to most students until April 11 due to the protest.

Stuff reports VUWSA has penned an open letter to Education Minister Chris Hipkins, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and the university's Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford calling for an urgent meeting, bus options to Kelburn campus and course refunds for the six weeks the campus will be closed.

Guilford has apparently said fee refunds are off the table.

9.10am: Rubbish is piling up at the anti-mandate protest outside Parliament.

1News filmed the large pile of black rubbish bags, which are starting to smell, on Kate Sheppard Place.

8.45am: Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has appeared on Breakfast.

He says the focus of police in coming days is to give Wellington back to Wellingtonians.

They want to see the ongoing return of areas completely unrelated to the protest, such as the bus terminal and university grounds.

"Ongoing constructive engagement" was occurring with a group of protest leaders, but Coster also said it was clear they were not fully in control of the situation.

"We will work with them as long as we can."

He said three officers injured on Tuesday by an stinging substance were doing well. Police don't know with confidence what the substance is.

Coster confirmed a number of police staff were isolating having tested positive for Covid-19. They are part of one team. Coster said he does not know where they contracted the virus. He added it demonstrates the hazards of the job.

Coster said police remain of the view de-escalation is the best approach on the whole.

8.12am: We've had a response from Capital and Coast DHB about the earlier medical event at the protest grounds.

The DHB has confirmed the patient was brought to the emergency department.

Noticeably fewer protest vehicles in the streets surrounding Parliament on day 16.

"The patient is undergoing testing for Covid-19 as per standard process. We are not able to provide further information at this time."

8am: Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has done a number of interviews this morning.

He said sending in the Defence Force would be an “extreme situation”.

“We don’t want to see soldiers on our streets.”

He said police were “well placed” to deal with the protest.

Coster told RNZ staff working at the anti-mandate protest outside Parliament have contracted Covid-19.

He says while they can't link transmission to the protest, with people coming far and wide for the demonstration, he would be surprised if there was no Covid among protesters.

7.35am: National leader Christopher Luxon continues to say the party's view of the protest has not changed.

He appeared on Breakfast a few minutes ago, where he stuck to his denials he's not sympathetic to protesters.

"The bottom line is what's going on down there with the protesters is totally unacceptable," he said.

"You’ve got a right to protest, but you've got to do it legally, respecting your fellow citizens."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday his comments in a speech on Monday sounded "dangerously close to sympathy" for the protesters.

"We do not accept protesters behaviour at all, but it means we should be able to have a right to be able to say: ‘hey, are we going in the right direction?’, ‘have we got the pathway right?’ without being denigrated and, and saying he's with the protesters now," he told Breakfast.

On Monday Luxon had criticised the Government, saying there is an "increasingly divided society" in New Zealand.

"What we are seeing outside Parliament and the reaction to it, is the culmination of underlying issues that have been rumbling along in our communities for some time," he had said.

He said it was driven by Covid and vaccine mandates, but also, "the frustrations shared by many Kiwis are also driven by a Government that seems to be stalling".

Ardern has said once Omicron cases begin to fall, "that is the point where we can start doing things differently", in terms of restrictions and mandates.

7.02am: On the earlier medical event at the protest — A Wellington Free Ambulance spokesperson has confirmed they attended an incident. One person was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

7am: "It is quite noticeable there are fewer cars on the roads just outside Parliament at the moment. I went down and had a look and you can actually start seeing the road now," Breakfast's Abbey Wakefield has said this morning.

Police say they saw cars, trucks and vans continue to vacate the protest area on Tuesday afternoon.

6.45am: It appears a person suffered a medical event at the protest camp earlier this morning. Stuff photographed a person being taken away from the camp on a stretcher.

6.20am: Just a bit of a recap from Tuesday's events — Wellington Girls' College will be shut today and until next month due to increased violence at the protest in central Wellington.

Police will bring in extra staff on Wednesday.

It comes after what police labelled "disgraceful" behaviour when a person attempted to drive a car into a group of police on Tuesday and three officers were hospitalised after being sprayed with an unknown substance.

The increased violence has led to some protesters leaving the occupation site.

"Police will continue a highly visible presence in and around the protest area this evening and overnight," police said in a statement on Tuesday night.

"[On Wednesday] Police visibility will again be increased in the area to provide reassurance to Wellingtonians as they travel to work, school or home.

"Police remain extremely disappointed by the actions exhibited by some protesters today with some concrete bollards being moved from the perimeter of the protest area."