Dozens of people have spent a cold and rainy Auckland day breaching the latest Covid-19 restrictions outside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Mt Albert electorate office.
The group, appearing to protest a range of topics from the latest restrictions to vaccination efforts and “being silenced” in media reporting, were there for several hours despite the fact that Ardern spent the day in Wellington.
The protests came as Auckland entered day one of alert level 3 restrictions, and the rest of New Zealand alert level 2, after three cases of the highly-transmissible UK variant of Covid-19 were found in a south Auckland family.
Monday saw no new community cases announced, although Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield warned the days ahead would be “crucial” with mass testing results yet to come in, particularly from Papatoetoe High School where one of the cases was a student.
The UK variant that the family had was “highly transmissible and a fast-moving chain” which required fast action, said Ardern. It still had not been linked to a known case in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.
Due to this high risk to public health and a wider outbreak, Ardern announced on Sunday Auckland would be at alert level 3 until midnight Wednesday, during which time people aside from non-essential workers were asked to stay home, and to wear masks and practise social distancing if in public.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are not permitted in the region.
Such lockdowns are supported by many of the country’s top public health scientists as crucial to getting on top of the spread of the highly-contagious virus, and economists too due to the consequences of longer, more restrictive lockdowns if the virus got out of control.
Despite this, up to 50 people gathered outside Ardern’s electorate office in Auckland today.
A Herald staff member said they were clearly Covid-19 protesters, aged generally from their 40s to 60s and representing a range of different ethnicities.
They were hostile towards the staff member after they identified themselves as working for a media organisation, and were not willing to provide their names nor much comment.
The protesters, none of whom were wearing respiratory masks, held a range of signs including a rainbow swastika, and others preached misinformation about Covid-19 and the upcoming vaccination programme.
A loudspeaker was also in use, although at one point neighbours sought to drown this out by playing death metal music.
While this quashed some of the speeches, the protesters appeared to not mind the music choice.
Police monitored the protest, although they appeared to be taking a “very hands-off approach”.
Researchers and scientists worldwide have warned of the dangers posed by spreading misinformation about Covid-19 ever since it was declared a pandemic early last year.
Ardern’s office declined to comment on the protests today, which also came as she announced the first batch of 60,000 doses or 30,000 courses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country.
During her press conference Ardern was asked about how people who were anti-vaccinations could hamper efforts to stamp out the virus.
Bloomfield and Ardern said they were both willing to get the vaccines early to overcome vaccine hesitancy but they had to decide whether to move themselves ahead in the queue if it would encourage others.
Ardern said she thought Bloomfield would be a good example of someone who would help instil confidence in the community about the vaccines.
A police spokeswoman told the Herald officers attended and spoke to those involved, reminding them of alert level 3 restrictions.
“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” she said.
“Police acknowledge the public’s lawful right to protest, however also recognise the importance of preventing the spread of Covid-19 in the community and ensuring people adhere to the alert level restrictions.”