Auckland Black Lives Matter protest organisers say COVID-19 rules were 'reinforced', critical of Jacinda Ardern

An Auckland Black Lives Matter group said it tried to enforce COVID-19 rules at a protest on Monday.

Auckland Central's Aotea Square and Queen St were filled with people on Monday rallying against racism and police brutality after the death of African-American man George Floyd. Floyd died last week after having his neck kneeled upon by a police officer for nearly nine minutes, sparking international protests.

With thousands of people attending the march, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that it breached COVID-19 alert level 2 restrictions, which, among other things, limit gatherings to 100 people. 

There was also little physical distancing seen with crowds clumped up while walking down the main Auckland street, despite attendees being reminded about the need to respect distancing requirements. 

Black Lives Matter Solidarity Auckland released a statement on Wednesday, saying it worked with police to "reinforce" the social distancing message "every 5-10 minutes". 

"We handed out masks, had hand sanitiser available and followed contact tracing protocol," spokesperson Shalane Williams said. A contact tracing form was available online for attendees to fill in. 

Following the march, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said she was "absolutely gutted" to see people protesting "without taking COVID precautions". 

"If you went today, please, please, please self isolate for the next 14 days. The last thing any of us want is to see a surge in cases," she said.

But Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said that wasn't necessary. 

"Anyone who attended these gatherings or who is planning to be at other upcoming events and feels they may be at risk by coming into close contact with people they don't know, should take a cautious approach and seek advice," he said.

"There's currently no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand so at this time, quarantine for 14 days after attending one of these outdoor events is not required."

He encouraged people to observe physical distancing. 

In the statement, the advocacy group also criticised Ardern. 

"We are disappointed that you did not condemn the murder of George Floyd. In fact, your tone and dismissiveness has been patronising and condescending," Williams said.

"Anti-black racism and white supremacy is real and affects various communities in Aotearoa. Speak up and extend your empathy and kindness to ALL of Aotearoa."

On Tuesday, Ardern was asked on The AM Show: "Do you condemn the killing of George Floyd?"

She replied: "I think the whole world does. Of course, of course. You read the story, it is just horrifying. Coming back to where I have a role, here in New Zealand, no one would argue that we are a picture of perfection in New Zealand. We are not.

"Something that I believe is one of our strengths is our ability to openly discuss where we are in terms of our fight against racism and intolerance, issues of unconscious bias. We do openly discuss and debate those issues and we do openly seek to change them."

Footage of Ardern speaking about being "horrified" by Floyd's death has gone global, with the likes of CNN and Reuters covering it.

Black Lives Matter Solidarity Auckland said it was "overwhelmed with the support from all cultures and identities. It was clear by those who joined that it was a safe space for everyone. The reach that the march received is mind-blowing and we're all honestly in disbelief."