New Zealand’s Ardern labels anti-vaccine protests ‘imported’ as crowds defy calls to leave

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that she felt the demonstrations against the mandate of a COVID-19 vaccine, now entering its second week, were an “imported” phenomenon and nothing like anything she had seen before in the country. .

Hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the lawns in front of Parliament’s iconic “beehive” for the seventh day, ignoring repeated calls from police to leave, and unchecked due to heavy rain over the weekend.

Taking inspiration from the anti-vaccine demonstrations of truck drivers in Canada, protesters also blocked several streets around Parliament with their trucks, rickshaws and motorbikes.

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“I feel like an imported protest,” Ardern told state broadcaster TVNZ in an interview.

“I saw Trump flags on the front yard, I saw Canadian flags on the front yard,” she said, referring to photos of former US President Donald Trump that some protesters carried as well as the situation in Canada.

At a press conference later in the day, Ardern said the protesters demanded the government remove all public health measures related to the COVID-19 virus.

“This means that at the same point that we are seeing an increase in cases and an increase in risks to public health and well-being in New Zealand, they want to see the removal of measures that have kept us safe and healthy. You will forgive me if I look hard at this suggestion,” Ardern said.

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The protests began as a stand against vaccine mandates, but have been joined by groups calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions, the refusal of vaccinations, as well as drawing attention to other social issues such as censorship and the rights of the ethnic Maori community. At the height of the protests, thousands of demonstrators were estimated to have participated.

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, largely due to stringent coronavirus border restrictions and social restrictions.

Daily variant Omicron cases rose, however, to nearly 1,000 on Monday, as some local restrictions were eased this month.

However, the country’s borders remain closed with tens of thousands of New Zealand expats isolated from their families.

The High Court on Monday began hearing a case against the government brought by a group representing New Zealanders who has accused the state of illegally denying citizens the right to enter the country.

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Reporting by Praveen Menon Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Kim Coogill

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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