Backbencher Gastropub to close for week as 'threatening' anti-vaccine mandate protest causes chaos

One of Wellington's most iconic hospitality venues will close for the remainder of the week amid chaos across the street at Parliament where anti-vaccine mandate protesters have set up tents and blocked surrounding roads.

Dozens of people have been arrested on Thursday after a standoff with police on Parliament's forecourt. Demonstrators swarmed the site on Tuesday - many having travelled from across New Zealand as part of a protest convoy - and have been camped there since. On Wednesday, police began instructing them to leave or risk being trespassed.

The Backbencher Gastropub, regularly visited by MPs from across the road and iconic for its large puppets of politicians, announced on Thursday morning that it will be closed for the rest of the week and provide an update when it is ready to reopen.

On Tuesday, the venue had to close just after opening due to "significant verbal abuse and threats" made against staff members by protesters.

Speaking to Newshub on Wednesday, Alistair Boyce, the general manager and chef, said the situation had been extremely volatile. 

"It was building all morning with the congestion and the volume of people. It was very angry and very loud. Motorbikes were doing donuts, there were motorbikes on the footpaths," Boyce said.

"The turning point for us was, unfortunately, we are carrying out the Government [vaccine] mandate… this inflamed a lot of the mob, and they did turn into a mob. They started victimising staff. They started calling us Nazis and just general abuse."

Boyce said protesters were very difficult to move on once they had entered the premises. They would start "egging each other on" and it became a "mob rule" with staff threatened and intimidated.

"This is the first time since 1990 and possibly since the Springbok tour… [protesters] have turned to victimising staff, but the Government introduced the mandate and we have to follow it otherwise we can't trade," he said.

"This was a threatening situation. Staff were intimidated and threatened. So it has cost a lot. We've had foreshore and seabed marches, we've had every march you can imagine, and we've never been in that situation."

To limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 in public places, all food and drink service workers must be fully vaccinated against the virus. Under the red light settings, which are currently in effect due to the Omicron outbreak, a maximum of 100 people are allowed in hospitality venues if vaccine passes are used. Without vaccine passes, hospitality must be contactless.

Boyce said that even without the disruption of the protest, businesses are doing it tough with fewer people coming out because of the COVID-19 restrictions or fear of Omicron. There is also no wage subsidy, with the main source of financial assistance being the leave support scheme, available if an employee has to isolate due to contact with a COVID-19 case. 

While Boyce said the situation hadn't been as confrontational on Wednesday, his business was still "surrounded" and staff were seen as "the enemy because we follow the Government mandates and we check vaccine passes". 

He is "disappointed" in the Government. 

"This was pretty obvious that this was coming. They marginalised 10 percent of the population and that 10 percent is easily radicalised. They are still here. What Western nation has the main street in front of Parliament blocked off for over 24 hours with protesters? It might be a minority, but it is a significant minority." 

The latest data from the Ministry of Health shows that 96 percent of the eligible population have one dose, 94 percent have had two doses and 53 percent have had their booster shot.