As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 24

The Ministry of Health has announced a massive spike in COVID cases with 6137 new infections and 205 people in hospital on Thursday, marking another record day.

It comes after COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that New Zealand will move to phase 3 of the Omicron response at 11:59pm on Thursday.

Hipkins said that only cases and household contacts will be required to self-isolate in phase 3 and Rapid Antigen Tests will become the primary form of testing. They will be sold through retail outlets from March.

What you need to know:

  • A massive 6137 COVID-19 cases were reported on Thursday.
  • Location of new community cases on Thursday (PCR): Northland (56), Auckland (1979), Waikato (314), Bay of Plenty (116), Lakes (75), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (69), Whanganui (13), Taranaki (30), Tairāwhiti (26), Wairarapa (11), Capital and Coast (120), Hutt Valley (68), Nelson Marlborough (112), Canterbury (194), South Canterbury (3), Southern (305), West Coast (4).
  • Location of new community cases on Thursday (RAT): Northland (24), Auckland (1900), Waikato (163), Bay of Plenty (75), Lakes (16), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (8), Whanganui (4), Taranaki (4), Tairāwhiti (0), Wairarapa (4), Capital and Coast (44), Hutt Valley (5), Nelson Marlborough (11), Canterbury (43), South Canterbury (3), Southern (290), West Coast (0).
  • Cases in hospital: total number 205: North Shore: 33; Middlemore: 67; Auckland: 77; Tauranga: 6; Lakes: 4; Waikato: 8; Hutt Valley: 5; Capital and Coast: 3; Canterbury: 2; Tairāwhiti: 1.
  • Chris Hipkins has announced the move to Omicron phase 3 will happen on Thursday night 
  • There are "at least two" positive COVID-19 cases among the Wellington protesters, the Ministry of Health says.
  • The Parliament protest is on day 17.
  • You can see the latest locations of interest here.

These live updates have finished.

9:15pm - Here's a chart from the Ministry of Health showing the vaccination rates for each DHB. It also includes booster rates.

The DHB that has the highest booster rate is Capital and Coast, sitting on 75.6 percent, followed closely by Nelson-Marlborough on 74.9 percent.

Click here for a full breakdown of vaccine rates in New Zealand.

As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 24
Photo credit: Ministry of Health

8:45pm - A holiday overseas could finally be a reality again in a few months' time and Air New Zealand is desperately hoping to lure Kiwis back into the skies.

Its survival depends on it as the national carrier lost a whopping $376 million in the last six months of 2021 and its full-year result will be even worse.

"It's a real needle to thread isn't it, as an airline? It's probably as tough today as it's been any day through the last two years," Air New Zealand's CEO Greg Foran says.

On Thursday the airline reported a pre-tax loss of $376 million for the six month period ending December 31.

That's compared to the $105 million loss for the same period in 2020.

But it's not hard to find the culprit.

"August, into lockdowns, we were into Delta, and no sooner were we sort of out of Delta and we're into Omicron," Foran says.

Factor in that Omicron-shaped uncertainty and rapidly rising fuel costs, and full-year pre-tax losses are expected to exceed 800-million dollars.

Read the full story from Newshub's Giles Dexter here.

8:15pm - Here is an update from police about protest activity in Wellington:

A traffic management operation this afternoon has successfully repositioned and reinforced the concrete bollard road blocks around the perimeter of the protest area in Wellington.

This work is part of our ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of the protest on Wellingtonians, particularly those who live, work and study in the area around Parliament.

About 170 staff were involved in the operation this afternoon to reinforce the existing concrete bollards to further reduce the area of protest activity.

Staff secured the location at Bowen Street and Lambton Quay to allow forklift vehicles to move the concrete blocks into place.

The initial operation was completed within 90 minutes and completed without incident.

Further action was taken at Bunny Street to reinstate bollards in order to prevent further vehicles from entering the protest site.

The overall number of vehicles in the enclosed precinct is now around 300 – significantly reduced from last week as people continue to pack up and leave every day.

Movements to reduce the cordon will continue in the coming days as our focus remains on returning the city back to normal as quickly as possible.

Police are disappointed to see protesters presenting homemade shields, crafted from plywood and rope. 

A visible presence will remain at Parliament this evening as Police continue to monitor protest activity.

Police will continue to maintain our reassurance patrols, with assistance from Maori Wardens.

8:10pm - People are taking their COVID-related anger out on Countdown supermarket staff, says corporate affairs manager Kiri Hannafin.

Last year there were stabbing attacks at two stores, one in Dunedin, and another by a terrorist in Auckland.

Hannafin told RNZ customers are now taking COVID-related anger out on staff.

"Absolutely dreadful - pretty much the behaviour we're seeing in Wellington, we get this throughout our stores every single day and have had that for months, if not two years now," she told Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan.

"People not wearing masks with impunity, abusing our team, swearing, spitting, threatening to kill, every single day still."

Hannafin was amazed Countdown's 22,000 staff kept "trucking on" despite "such absolutely outrageous behaviour by some very small minority".

Read the full story here.

7:40pm - Here is an update from police about how many officers connected to protest have COVID:

Community cases of COVID-19 are rising across the country and Police as an organisation is also seeing a small number of cases within our staff.

For privacy reasons and because the situation is changing so quickly we won't be getting into specifics however I can confirm a small number of staff working in Wellington have returned positive tests and they are isolating along with their close contacts.

Wellington District, like all our Police Districts, is well experienced at responding to critical events and adapting our delivery to changing demands and needs.

We have been planning and preparing for the delivery of policing services in the COVID-19 and more specifically the Omicron environment.

While these may be challenging times, we are focused on ensuring the health and wellbeing of our people and delivering the policing service the community expects.

7:05pm - A prominent anti-vaxxer at the Parliament protest has admitted many of his fellow demonstrators are falling ill - although he claims COVID-19 is not the culprit.

The comments come after Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed on Thursday afternoon that COVID-infected members of the anti-mandate protest had been seeking hospital care.

"There's actually been quite a few people who are getting really, really sick," Brad Flutey said in a video on Telegram that is now circulating on Twitter.

"My advice to everyone down there that might actually be something to do with some devices so you are going to have to find some way to stay off-site every now and then so you can take care of yourself."

"We are going to take care of those devices."

Read the full story here.

6:20pm - Emily Harvey, lead researcher at COVID-19 Modelling Aotearoa and principal investigator with Te Pūnaha Matatini, has given comments about the move to phase 3:

"The shift to Phase 3 includes two main bundles of changes. The first is to the testing system, with the shift to RATs in place of PCR tests in many circumstances. The second is the change in isolation and testing requirements for non-household close contacts.

"Although PCR tests have a much higher sensitivity, the long delays seen in PCR testing due to capacity constraints has prevented them being useful in reducing onward transmission because of the delay in identifying close contacts of cases as soon as possible after exposure. The shift to using RATs which are less sensitive, but give a result almost immediately, will be a big help in identifying cases promptly and reducing onwards transmission from them and their close contacts. 

"With the prevalence levels and test positivity rates we are seeing, the chance of false positives becomes very small for anyone with covid-like symptoms or known contact with a confirmed case, and the use of confirmatory PCR would be a waste of PCR testing capacity. More of a concern with RATs is that people will need to be aware of the possibility of false negatives, and there should be clear messaging about the importance of continuing to isolate if you have covid-like symptoms or are a close contact even if you test negative with a RAT. 

"The second set of changes removes the isolation requirements for non-household close contacts, and only requires them to test if they develop symptoms. This change was included in the original announcement of the 'Phases' in order to manage the anticipated disruption to critical workers and supply chains due to a large number of people needing to isolate if they were close contacts. Since then, the Close Contact Exemption Scheme has been introduced, which enables close contacts to go to work as long as they test negative on daily RATs and are not symptomatic. This has removed the original reason for this change, and it is not clear why it is still being implemented.

"This change to isolation and testing requirements at Phase 3 will increase overall transmission risk. Although Minister Hipkins stated that people could still choose to isolate if they were a close contact, for many people this is not an option. This shift will exacerbate the already existing inequities in infection risk.

"Additionally, the increased transmission risk due to this shift can be expected to result in a steeper rise in case numbers, a higher peak, and a greater cumulative number of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths. These additional infections may in fact increase the level of disruption to critical services, due to having more confirmed cases in their workforce."

6pm - It's time for Newshub Live at 6pm for the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak and protest activity at Parliament.

Watch online here or tune in on Three.

5:55pm - Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) says it is reassured to hear the Government plans to review the self-isolation requirements for visitors entering the country.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said earlier on Thursday he expected to get advice on self-isolation over the next two weeks and that decisions would be made within the next month.

Vaccinated Kiwis will be able to fly into New Zealand from Australia without having to go into MIQ from 11:59pm on February 27. However, they will be required to self-isolate for seven days.

New Zealand’s borders are scheduled to progressively open to international travellers over the next few months but all vaccinated arrivals will be required to self-isolate.

"While these requirements are in place, Aotearoa New Zealand will remain off the radar for high value international holidaymakers. Few people will want to spend the first few days of their New Zealand holiday in self-isolation," TIA communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson says.

"The sooner we can signal intentions and timelines for reopening both our air and maritime borders without the requirement for self-isolation, the sooner tourism operators can get back to doing what they do best."

In its latest visitor insights research, strategy company Angus & Associates found that despite the emergence of Omicron in the community, the majority of Kiwis still support a reopening of the border.

"With the move to phase 3 of the Omicron response, the rationale for keeping self-isolation rules in place no longer exists. We are now seeing thousands of new cases in the community every day but only a handful at the border," Johnson says.

International air services require travellers to be vaccinated and all will be tested before arrival in New Zealand.

TIA says it is working on an evidence-based case for removing self-isolation requirements and will provide this to the Government as soon as possible.

5:35pm - The Southern DHB continues to be the DHB outside of the Auckland region recording the highest number of new daily cases.

The area reported 514 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 1740. Of this total, 955 are in Dunedin, 364 in Queenstown-Lakes, 55 in Invercargill, 26 in Waitaki, 22 in Central Otago, 11 each in Gore and the remaining Southland area, and six in Clutha.

5:20pm - Here is an update from police on the Wellington protest:

Police is warning those thinking about travelling to Wellington to participate in the unlawful protest this weekend - don't.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers says, "While the vast majority of Wellington is open for business and functioning relatively normally, the protest activity around Parliament grounds is unwelcome and having an unreasonably negative impact on residents, workers and students.

"We have made substantial progress over the last week to contain and restrict the movement of vehicles.

Around 300 vehicles now remain inside the enclosed protest area after a significant number of protesters packed up and left this week. Parliament grounds remain closed.

"Movements to shrink the protest footprint will continue in the coming days as our focus remains on returning the city back to normal as quickly as possible."

Concrete bollards were installed around the protest area perimeter this week, and while no vehicles are being allowed in, Police are allowing essential supplies such as food and sanitation to be collected from the perimeter.

Police are not allowing any vehicles, tents, or other equipment to enter the cordon.

Illegally parked vehicles outside the cordoned area can still expect to be towed.

With the departure of an increasing number of people from the site this week, Police are increasingly concerned that the key protest organisers no longer have full control over some of the groups present who have been engaging in intimidation of the public and violence towards police staff.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster says, "The protest must end soon and safely.

Parties are engaged in dialogue that I believe can result in a peaceful resolution.

"I want to thank the Police Commissioner and the police for the way they are dealing with this protest - methodically, professionally, with admirable restraint and dignity.

"There is no doubt our police force is one of, if not the best, in the world and they will ensure Wellingtonians are once again able to freely walk our streets in safety."

Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says a huge amount of work is having to take place at the University to accommodate students, staff and events affected by the closure and to ensure learning, teaching and other activities can resume as normal next week.

Professor Guilford says the protest is also having multiple other impacts on the University community, including affecting students and staff who travel into the city by train and cannot connect with bus routes to University campuses due to the protest activity.

"Our staff, students, and other members of our University community have shown incredible patience and understanding but the situation is causing significant strain."

Combined with continuing concerns over deteriorating sanitary conditions, and confirmation of protestors testing positive for Covid-19, Police continue to urge people to stay away from an occupation site that is no longer a safe environment for families and children.

Assistant Commissioner Chambers says, "The protest area is not safe for families, and it is still far from being operated lawfully.

We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against any unlawful activity that is reported to us.

"This has been a difficult and disruptive time for many local residents and businesses.

As we continue to return freedom of movement to Wellington, Police will maintain a high presence throughout the city this weekend so that everyone feels safe.

"Police encourages everyone to enjoy Wellington for the right reasons this weekend."

5:05pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is "not choosing to focus on what ultimately was two people" after being heckled during a visit to Christchurch. 

It was the second day in a row Ardern was shouted at after anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protesters demonstrated outside the building she visited in Westport on Wednesday

Ardern was in Christchurch on Thursday to announce that 13 vehicle and technology decarbonising projects would get co-funding from the Government's new-look Low Emission Transport Fund - including New Zealand's first first electric milk tanker. 

But it wasn't long before COVID-19 became the focus after two people - one wearing a helmet and draped in a New Zealand flag - heckled the Prime Minister about ending vaccine mandates.

"When are you going to address the protesters in Wellington?" one of them could be heard shouting as Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods arrived at the location. 

As Ardern took to the podium to speak, she was booed and heckled by the protesters, who demanded she "end the mandates" and "tell the truth".

It was a familiar scene for Ardern, who has faced similar demonstrations over the past few months during visits to Northland, Whanganui and Gisborne. 

"I'm not choosing to focus on ultimately what was two people," Ardern told reporters in Christchurch, after moving inside. 

"The focus here for me and for us has to be the ongoing progress that we're making on the big issues of the day. Here, we're focussed on climate change, and I would like to think that we - us included, and everyone else - wouldn't be distracted by two people."

Read the full story here.

4:45pm - Phillip Wilcox, a senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics at the University of Otago, has given these comments about phase three:

Overseas research has shown that severe COVID-19 has a heritable component. What this means is:

  • If you have a close relative – including those living overseas - who is or has been severely affected, then chances are higher that you will too, more so if you are not vaccinated or recently boosted and/or have other risk factors.
  • If you live with close relatives and become infected, then if possible, self-isolate away from them and follow the self-isolation guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health. Doing so will help protect your whānau.

Keep in touch with close relatives during this time. Sharing experiences will forewarn whānau members so they can proactively take appropriate measures.

Lack of infection is not necessarily an indicator of immunity: other factors could be contributing to lack of infection despite possible exposure, so even if close relatives are not affected it doesn’t mean you won’t be.

4:30pm - Leighton Baker, the former leader of the New Conservative Party, is in the human line against police.

He was seen on a livestream with his back to officers forming a human shield line with fellow protesters.

Leighton Baker at the protest.
Leighton Baker at the protest. Photo credit: Facebook / The Daily Examiner NZ

4:15pm - This is another angle of the police line outside Parliament.

As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 24
Photo credit: Newshub.

4:05pm - Here is a short statement from Dr Craig Thornley, medical officer of health at Regional Public Health (RPH) in Wellington:

"We are aware that the protest site is a location of interest linked to a confirmed case of COVID-19.

"Noting that under phase 2 of the Omicron Response, RPH does not receive information on all cases, as cases are primarily managed by the National Investigation and Tracing Centre (NITC).

"RPH therefore has limited visibility of cases associated with the Wellington protest site."

3:55pm - Here's a photo of police in riot gear lined up against protesters.

As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 24
Photo credit: Newshub.

3:40pm - Here is a statement from Maritime New Zealand about them being aware of a protest group wanting to cross Cook Strait:

Maritime New Zealand alongside several other partner agencies is closely monitoring plans by a group to cross the Cook Strait, from Picton to Wellington.

It is believed the group connected to the parliamentary protest is planning on making the voyage over the next couple of days.

Deputy Director Safety and Response Systems, Nigel Clifford says the Cook Strait can be very dangerous.

"It is known locally and internationally as one of the most rugged stretches of water in the world, with strong winds and tidal effects that can create, at times, risky conditions," he says.

Local harbourmasters, police and Coastguard are also monitoring the plans of the group.

Nigel Clifford says crossing the Cook Strait is not for the under prepared.

"We do not recommend trying to cross the Cook Strait if you are an inexperienced boatie, or on vessels unable to cope with large swells," he says.

It is hugely important anyone planning on crossing the Strait undertakes significant planning prior to departure.

For more information on how to safely plan journeys head to, and information about Wellington Harbour can be found here.

3:25pm - Police in riot gear have gathered at Parliament.

Livestream footage shows them lined against a large group of protesters, where they're all tightly packed in.

A forklift carrying a concrete bollard has also just been transported down the street.

As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Thursday, February 24
Photo credit: Facebook / Chantelle Baker

3pm - Thousands of rapid antigen tests were given out at Auckland community testing centres yesterday as Omicron case numbers rise.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are being used as the primary test at Auckland community testing centres (CTCs) to help meet demand for testing as the Omicron outbreak grows.

The tests have been rolled out to CTCs in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Southern to be used in conjunction with PCR tests in those centres, and will be made available at centres in other parts of the country this week.

"Yesterday we gave out about 14,000 rapid antigen tests through our CTCs," Northern Region Health Coordination Centre programme director Matt Hannant said.

"We're confident we can meet demand. We're not forecasting any challenges in that area."

Read the full story here.

2:35pm - National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says the Government has failed to prepare New Zealand for the move to phase 3 since there is "still nowhere near enough" rapid antigen tests for everyone.

"Testing capacity in New Zealand is already overwhelmed. People trying to do the right thing and get tested are waiting in queues for hours and then up to seven days for the results," he says.

"New Zealand has a massive shortage of tests because the Government didn't order enough, early enough.

"It's disastrous and things will get worse before getting better. But the Government only have themselves to blame for the situation."

Bishop says that by the end of 2021, the Government had only ordered 13.2 million tests - "barely enough for two tests per person" - and that they only started ordering them in November 2021.

"Meanwhile, everyone in England has been able to order 14 tests a week since April 2021," Bishop says.

"People can't just pick up a test from a pharmacy or supermarket like in other countries, schools are on the brink of closing because they can't access them for all their teachers, and businesses who have ordered their own tests have had them confiscated by the Government."

2:15pm - A video circulating online shows a protester shoulder-charging a police officer and knocking him to the ground as the turmoil at Parliament continues. 

Anti-mandate protesters have been occupying Parliament's grounds for more than 16 days with violence erupting on Tuesday. Three officers were hospitalised after having an unknown stinging substance thrown on them while a man was arrested after trying to drive a car into police. Frontline officers were also forced to use riot shields after protesters threw human waste on them on Monday. 

Tensions also erupted on Wednesday night between police and protesters when demonstrators removed a concrete bollard near Parliament to let more cars in. 

Demonstrators claim as many as 30 car managed to re-enter the area.

And while the violence has settled down since then, videos online continue to show police being subjected to violence and harassment. 

A video being shared on Twitter shows a man running up to a group of police officers before knocking one onto the ground. The officer falls onto the sidewalk and the man responsible runs away. 

Read the full story here.

2pm - Over in Queensland, Australia, there are 6094 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths.

A total 334 people are currently in hospital, 30 of whom are in ICU.

1:50pm - Here's more information from the Ministry of Health:

Positive rapid antigen test reporting

The total number of cases reported will now include those identified from both RATs and PCR tests. A breakdown gives how many cases were identified using PCR and how many through RATs.

Today's figure will include cases identified with RATs in the same midnight-to-midnight reporting period used for reporting positive PCR tests.

The Omicron public health response during Phase Two and Three operates on more devolved model to ensure health resources are focused on those who need it most. It is very important to the overall response that people self-report positive results for RATs, so we understand the size of the outbreak.

We'd like to thank the thousands of people who have already self-reported positive RAT results.

Based on overseas experiences, the Ministry of Health has been expecting the true number of community cases to be higher than the cases reported each day and this has been factored into our Omicron planning.

When assessing the outbreak, health officials typically review trends in the 7-day rolling average of community cases to understand the spread of the virus, as well as hospitalisations to understand severe COVID-19 illness and related impacts on the health system. Because we focus on the actual trend, any potential ‘undercount’ doesn’t significantly impact our assessment of the trend, and subsequent public health advice and decision-making.

Further information on RATS will be reported in coming days.

COVID-19 vaccine update

Vaccinations administered in New Zealand  

  • Vaccines administered to date: 4,017,924 first doses; 3,955,733 second doses; 32,938 third primary doses; 2,248,153 booster doses: 232,359 paediatric first doses and 2,239 paediatric second doses 
  • Vaccines administered yesterday: 536 first doses; 1,146 second doses; 136 third primary doses; 24,632 booster doses; 1,385 paediatric first doses and 150 paediatric second doses 

People vaccinated (including those vaccinated overseas)

  • All Ethnicities (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 4,060,799 first dose (96.5%); 3,997,213 second dose (95%), 2,249,809 boosted (68.2% of those eligible)* 
  • Māori (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 518,452 first dose (90.8%); 497,159 second dose (87.1%), 188,490 boosted (57.5% of those eligible) 
  • Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 280,301 first dose (97.8%); 273,994 second dose (95.6%), 112,815 boosted (55% of those eligible) 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds all ethnicities: 232,276 first dose (48.8%); 2,259 second dose (0.5%) 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds - Māori: 33,669 first dose (29.1%); 368 second dose (0.3%) 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds - Pacific Peoples: 20,040 first dose (40.6%); 337 second dose (0.7%) 

*Note, that the number for "people vaccinated" differs slightly from "vaccines administered" as it includes those that have been vaccinated overseas.

Vaccination rates for all DHBs (percentage of eligible people aged 12 +)

  • Northland DHB: first dose (90.3%); second dose (87.7%); boosted (67.5%) 
  • Auckland Metro DHB: first dose (97.3%); second dose (96%); boosted (65%) 
  • Waikato DHB: first dose (95.3%); second dose (93.4%); boosted (64.8%) 
  • Bay of Plenty DHB: first dose (95.2%); second dose (93.2%); boosted (65.7%) 
  • Lakes DHB: first dose (93.6%); second dose (91.3%); boosted (66.3%) 
  • MidCentral DHB: first dose (96.8%); second dose (95.1%); boosted (70.9%) 
  • Tairāwhiti DHB: first dose (93.3%); second dose (90.6%); boosted (67%) 
  • Whanganui DHB: first dose (92.3%); second dose (90.4%); boosted (71.8%) 
  • Hawke’s Bay DHB: first dose (97.2%); second dose (95.1%); boosted (69.5%) 
  • Taranaki DHB: first dose (94.8%); second dose (93%); boosted (65.6%) 
  • Wairarapa DHB: first dose (96.7%); second dose (94.9%); boosted (73.4%) 
  • Capital & Coast DHB: first dose (98.7%); second dose (97.8%); boosted (75.6%) 
  • Hutt Valley DHB: first dose (96.9%); second dose (95.6%); boosted (72.7%) 
  • Nelson Marlborough DHB: first dose (96.8%); second dose (95.2%); boosted (74.9%) 
  • West Coast DHB: first dose (93%); second dose (91.1%); boosted (71.9%) 
  • Canterbury DHB: first dose (99.7%); second dose (98.5%); boosted (69.8%) 
  • South Canterbury DHB: first dose (95.4%); second dose (94%); boosted (73.1%) 
  • Southern DHB: first dose (97.8%); second dose (96.5%); boosted (73%)

1:45pm - Here is more information from the Ministry of Health on today's cases and the one death:

COVID-19 related death

Sadly, we are reporting the death of a patient with COVID-19 at Middlemore Hospital.

The family has requested that no further details be released and, out of respect for those wishes, we will be making no further comment.

Our thoughts and condolences are with the patient's family and friends at this deeply sad time.


  • Cases in hospital: total number 205: North Shore: 33; Middlemore: 67; Auckland: 77; Tauranga: 6; Lakes: 4; Waikato: 8; Hutt Valley: 5; Capital and Coast: 3; Canterbury: 2; Tairāwhiti: 1
  • Average age of current hospitalisations: 52
  • Cases in ICU or HDU: 2
  • Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region only, excluding Emergency Departments): Unvaccinated or not eligible (23 cases / 14.5%); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (2 cases / 1.3%); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (73 cases / 45.9%%); unknown (21 cases / 13.2%)


  • Seven day rolling average of community cases (PCR): 2,911
  • Number of new community cases: 6,137
  • Number of new community cases (PCR): 3,526
  • Number of new community cases (RAT): 2,611
  • Location of new community cases (PCR): Northland (56), Auckland (1,979), Waikato (314), Bay of Plenty (116), Lakes (75), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (69), Whanganui (13), Taranaki (30), Tairāwhiti (26), Wairarapa (11), Capital and Coast (120), Hutt Valley (68), Nelson Marlborough (112), Canterbury (194), South Canterbury (3), Southern (305), West Coast (4)
  • Location of new community cases (RAT): Northland (24), Auckland (1,900), Waikato (163), Bay of Plenty (75), Lakes (16), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (8), Whanganui (4), Taranaki (4), Tairāwhiti (0), Wairarapa (4), Capital and Coast (44), Hutt Valley (5), Nelson Marlborough (11), Canterbury (43), South Canterbury (3), Southern (290), West Coast (0)
  • Number of new cases identified at the border: 8
  • Location of origin of border cases: Full travel history not obtained (8)
  • Number of active community cases (total): 27,611 (cases identified in the past 21 days and not yet classified as recovered) 
  • Confirmed cases (total): 42,469

* Please note, the Ministry of Health's daily reported cases may differ slightly from those reported at a DHB or local public health unit level. This is because of different reporting cut off times and the assignment of cases between regions, for example when a case is tested outside their usual region of residence. Total numbers will always be the formal daily case tally as reported to the WHO.

1:40pm - There are 6137 new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand and one death to report today. 

A total 205 people are in hospital, two of whom are in ICU.

1:21pm - While we wait for the Ministry of Health to reveal Thursday's COVID figures at any moment now, police have provided an update on the protest activity outside Parliament. 

Here is the full statement:

Police continue to be concerned at the level of aggressive behaviour from protestors in Wellington.

About 9pm yesterday, protesters moved bollards at the intersection on Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, letting about 20 vehicles into the protest area.

Police repositioned the bollards without incident.

Last night protesters on Hill Street armed themselves with makeshift shields made of plywood and rope, although the Police presence was to manage the cordon.

Police are collecting evidence of unlawful behaviour for further follow-up and possible prosecution.

At about 4pm yesterday a group of 10-15 protesters entered Pipitea Marae and demanded Police and Māori wardens vacate immediately.

The group were verbally trespassed by Police.

Police have seen a significant decrease in the number of vehicles and people at the protest area at Parliament. The number of protesters fluctuates between 150-300 at different times of the day.

About 300 vehicles remained inside the cordoned area overnight, down significantly from last weekend.

Free parking at Sky Stadium is no longer available as of today.

There around 35 vehicles still at Sky Stadium.

A visible presence remains at Parliament today as Police continue to monitor protest activity and plan to further reduce the cordon over the coming days as we return freedom of movement to Wellington.

1:09pm - While we wait for the Ministry of Health to reveal Thursday's COVID figures very shortly, they have released one new 'high risk' location of interest in Auckland. 

The location is:

  • Totara Hospice Auckland - Friday 18 February  from 10:30am to 1:30pm

For the relevant dates, times and public health advice - and updates to existing locations of interest - click here.

12:52pm - As usual, the Ministry of Health will release its daily statement with the latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak at around 1pm.

Stay tuned, as we will publish the newest developments live as soon as the statement is available.

12:40pm - The Restaurant Association says while the move to phase 3 is a step in the right direction there's still work to be done to slow down the rate of business interruption.

 "This week alone a large number of our businesses are having to close their doors as a result of staff becoming close contacts of Omicron cases," says Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association.

"Whilst the move to phase 3 is certainly helpful we are also aware that our industry employs a large number of younger people, many of whom are living in flatting situations and larger households.

"This means the chances of them becoming household contacts of positive cases is greater. Given this is a workforce that cannot work from home, the ability to be able to test to work has never been more important.

"We would like to see access the critical worker exemption which will allow employees who are testing negative to return to work extended more industries including hospitality."

12:35pm - Hipkins says the Government will keep an eye on the price of RATs when they become available in retail outlets in March. Tests will remain free for people who are required to get tested. 

The Government is getting advice on whether people should still be required to self-isolate after returning home from overseas. From next week, Kiwis from Australia can bypass MIQ, while others from around the globe can self-isolate from mid-March.

12:30pm - Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says Kiwis are starting to understand the message that they shouldn't get tested unless they have symptoms or have been told to. He said the use of RATs will support PCR testing. 

When New Zealand moves to phase 3, contacts isolating under phase 2 rules will no longer have to isolate unless they are household contacts. That may affect the parliamentary protest 'close contacts', who aren't household contacts.

Dr Bloomfield is concerned about what is happening in front of Parliament, especially because many in attendance are unvaccinated and not wearing masks. He's not aware of any more cases at the protest beyond the two announced on Wednesday.

12:25pm - Hipkins tells reporters that people who aren't household contacts but feel they may have come into contact with someone with COVID-19 can still isolate. The only people required to isolate are cases and household contacts. Kiwis need to take a greater level of personal responsibility, he says.

12:25pm - The key points from Hipkins' announcement:

  • New Zealand will move to Omicron phase three at 11:59pm on Thursday
  • More than 5000 cases have been recorded from PCR tests and RATs. The specific figures will be provided at 1pm
  • Hospitalisations will become the key metric. There are currently 205 people in hospital
  • The largest change is that only cases and household contacts will be required to self-isolate. This will be for 10 days. Other contacts are asked to monitor symptoms
  • RATs will become the primary form of testing and will be sold through retail outlets from March
  • There is a greater emphasis on self-management by cases

12:10pm - Here's the full statement from Hipkins:

Ministers have confirmed a move to the next phase of the Government's Omicron response from 11:59pm tonight (Thursday, 24 February), COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

"With daily case numbers in the thousands and forecast to rise sharply during the next few weeks, now is the time to implement the next stage in our plan that will keep New Zealand going throughout the Omicron peak," Chris Hipkins said.

"These changes will ease some of the pressure on our testing and contact tracing services over the next three to six weeks, while helping to ensure critical services and supply chains remain operational and our economy keeps moving.

"There's no doubt the next few weeks are going to be tough, but New Zealand is better-positioned than most countries to respond to Omicron. What we're seeing is what we expected. We just need to stick to our plan as we manage higher numbers of cases in coming weeks before we reach our peak.

"Because so many of us are vaccinated and Omicron is less severe we can have a more devolved response and much greater self-management. Care and support will continue to be there for those who need it most, as it always has been.

"Preparation and supporting one another will be key. We've been asking people to prepare for the last few weeks, both mentally and by putting plans in place. Making an isolation plan or 'stay at home' kit with friends and whānau, and being ready to use the tools that are available to allow resources to be directed towards protecting the most vulnerable.

"Community providers are resourced to provide care in the community, especially to vulnerable populations, and wraparound health and welfare support services alongside clinical care will focus on those with high needs.

"From now on the number of hospitalisations will replace case numbers as our key metric."

Chris Hipkins said New Zealand is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, which means that for most people, Omicron will be a mild to moderate illness.

"That should make the next period less of a worry for the vast majority of people. But we are still strongly encouraging people to get boosted. You are much less likely to need hospital care and new evidence shows it helps lower the likelihood of getting infected and transmitting COVID-19 to others. So please, for those who aren't yet boosted, it's now urgent.

"There are three major changes to how we will manage this phase:


"From midnight tonight, close contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate and only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will be required to do so. Confirmed cases and household contacts should isolate for 10 days but can now self-release after day 10, providing any testing requirements are met. If they develop symptoms, they are encouraged to test sooner.

"We are continuing to support our critical services to operate. The critical worker exemption scheme we announced this month will enable eligible household contacts to return to work during their isolation periods by returning a daily negative Rapid Antigen Test, and should it become necessary we may consider supporting probable or confirmed cases to return to work.


"There are also changes to how we test, and who should get a test," Chris Hipkins said.

"With millions of RATs now distributed around the country to testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and within workplaces, RATs will become the primary form of testing. You can now access a RAT from hundreds of locations around the country, making getting a test much easier and over the coming days the number of access points will increase significantly.

"Locations which have RATs available can be found on the HealthPoint website. PCR testing will be reserved for people where it's clinically indicated they need it. A PCR test will no longer be required to verify a positive RAT result.

"In addition, approved RATs will soon be able to be sold to the public through retail outlets. This will provide choice and access for the general public and small businesses.

Contact tracing

"As a country, we're moving to a stance of greater self-management. This will include use of a new self-investigation tool which will support positive cases to self-notify contacts.

"Because only household contacts are required to isolate, the tool will assist us to track high risk exposure events or locations. Contact tracing teams will now focus on identifying and tracing those who have visited these high-risk location such as hospital or aged care facility.

"There will be continued support for those members of our community who are not digitally set up," Chris Hipkins said.

12:05pm - The protest at Parliament has been designated a location of interest for between 11:55am and 11pm on Saturday, February 19 and between 11am and 11:59pm on Sunday, February 20. This is a "close contact" location of interest.

The advice for these people is: 

"Self-isolate for 7 days, test on day 5 after you were exposed at this location of interest. Monitor symptoms for 10 days. Test again if you feel unwell. Record your visit online or call Healthline so our contact tracers can get in touch."

12pm - Chris Hipkins has arrvied at the press conference. He says at 1pm, the regular update will be released, but ahead of that statement being released, Hipkins confirms the community case total sits around 5000, including PCR and RATs. There are 205 people in hospital.

New Zealand will move to Omicron phase 3 at 11:59pm on Thursday. This shift won't come as a surprise, Hipkins says. Phase 3 doesn't make any significant changes to personal restrictions, he says. 

Only cases and their household contacts will be required to isolate. All other contacts will be asked to monitor for symptoms. 

11:55am - The Government is about to make an announcement about the Omicron response. You can watch that above shortly.

11:40am - Damage or seizure of vehicles arising from protests or civil disruption aren't covered by any insurance policy, the Insurance Council (ICNZ) says.

On what was the 16th day of anti-mandate protests occupying Parliament's grounds and surrounding streets, demonstrators on Wednesday night removed at least one concrete bollard near Parliament so previously moved vehicles could re-enter the cordon.

Streets surrounding the Beehive have been forced closed by illegally parked cars since the protest began.

But should any of those cars become damaged, they won't be covered by insurance.

"Any loss or damage to vehicles as a result of removal or seizure by civil authorities or arising from protests or civil disruption is not covered by insurance," ICNZ said in a statement to Newshub.

Read the full story here.

11:30am - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins is joined by Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to provide an update on the Omicron response. 

We will live stream the announcement, which is due to start 12pm and you can watch it here or at the top of the page.

11:21am - In Victoria, they have seen a slight drop in COVID cases with 6715 new infections in the past 24 hours. 

Victoria Health said there had been 16 coronavirus deaths in the last reporting period, down from 17 announced on Wednesday. 

Hospitalisations have increased with currently 322 people in hospital, down from 319 on Wednesday, with 43 in ICU and five on a ventilator.   

There are currently 41,257 active cases in Victoria.

11:10am - Over in Australia, New South Wales has seen a decrease in COVID cases with 8271 new infections in the past 24 hours.

NSW Health said there had been 12 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, up from six on Wednesday. 

Hospitalisations have decreased with 1211 people in hospital, down from 1246 on Wednesday with 59 people in ICU.

11:03am - Groundswell says they sympathise with the anti-mandate protesters' frustrations over the Government's "antagonism and lack of response" but will not be joining the protest. 

Groundswell has recently been linked to the protest outside Parliament in Wellington but said they weren't joining as they're focusing on their core mission - the rural community. 

Here is the full statement:

"In recent days Groundswell NZ has been pulled in all directions over the protests currently in Wellington," Groundswell NZ spokesperson Bryce McKenzie says.

"In response to suggestions that Groundswell NZ are going to Wellington - we can assure you this is not happening. 

"While we can sympathise with the anti-mandate protesters' frustrations over the Government's antagonism and lack of response, people must respect that we are an organisation for our rural community, advocating predominately on rural issues. 

"As tempting as it is to line up in support of other causes, we need to stay focused on our core mission. 

"When Laurie and I established Groundswell NZ, it was in response to the unworkable regulations placed on hard-working Kiwi farmers. Although we have sympathy with those questioning mandates, it is not something Groundswell NZ is going to get involved in at this stage. 

"I know many Groundswell NZ members are against mandates. Others aren't. And that is OK. We come together and fight for what we all agree on - the over-regulation and arrogance from the Government. 

"As an organisation, we're tackling rural issues and don't want to take away from our core mission - focusing on holding this government to account on unworkable regulations.

"As farmers, we know first-hand how divisive this Government can be. We understand the frustration that many New Zealanders are feeling.

"Behind the scenes, we are planning the next stages of what is going to be a sustained campaign to push back on unworkable regulations impeding rural New Zealand. I hope you'll join our fight for rural communities and our way of life.

"Watch this space and thank you for your support."

10:20am - A Kiwi journalist for the New York Times has written a piece about the ongoing protest outside Parliament in Wellington. 

In Pete McKenzie's article for the Times, he looks at how New Zealand’s parliamentary occupation demonstrates the dangerous influence that exported American disinformation is having on otherwise stable democracies around the world.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher at New Zealand think tank Te Pūnaha Matatini who studies disinformation, said in the article that "there is a tsunami of bile every day". 
It is "a torrent of hate and harm directed towards individuals promoting the vaccine and the Prime Minister."

Dr. Hattotuwa said that any slight divide in New Zealand society was "exacerbated by conspiracism which had its genesis outside the country. 

"Everything which you would associate with QAnon in the United States is here."

10:06am - Te Kahu o Taonui Iwi has released a statement saying that they stand unified with Te Upoko o te Ika iwi in their stance against Convoy 2022.

Here is the full statement: 

Te Kahu o Taonui Taitokerau Iwi Chairs Collective stand with Te Upoko o Te Ika mana whenua in their stance against the Convoy 2022 Protest currently congregating at Parliament in Wellington.

Like the local iwi there, we condemn this occupation and urge any Taitokerau uri that are currently participating to make their way safely back to their homes. We echo the sentiments that respect be shown to their lands and people with a timely and peaceful resolution consistent with the tikanga of mana whenua. 

This protest has seen crowds of those opposing COVID-19 mandates and many other antagonists converge on Parliament grounds, on a range of differing issues. This has gone on far too long and has taken away from the extraordinary work of our iwi and local health authorities in keeping our communities, kaumātua and whānau safe from this pandemic. We are in support of actions being taken to protect all those who have been and continue to be threatened, intimidated, and victimised. 

Te Kahu o Taonui support the right to peaceful protest in Aotearoa and wish to extend this notion of rangimarie to all our Taitokerau uri at the protest to respect the wishes of mana whenua in the same way they have for us when we have made decisions about what we feel is best for our rohe.

We in Te Taitokerau will continue to build on our work over the last 23 months with Police and government agencies, around border control and vaccinations, whilst also keeping the pressure on and taking action when it comes to other significant issues that affect our whānau, hapū, iwi of the North and te iwi Māori as a whole. 

We therefore tautoko the seeking of a peaceful resolution in this matter and urge our uri to return home and get involved to mahi tahi together with us in continuing the dialogue and action within our own hapori and communities, for our collective benefit.

9:50am - Staff shortages forced up to nine ambulances off the road in Auckland on Saturday night, as Omicron takes its toll on paramedics.

St John said it was the number of staff in isolation or ill that caused the situation, and warned the problem has been compounded by a general shortage of healthcare workers affecting the entire sector.

But workers are sounding the alarm that the issue is much bigger than COVID19 and urgent intervention is needed.

St John paramedics are banned from speaking to the media - but concerns about ongoing delays in ambulance response times have prompted several share their concerns with Checkpoint.

Read the full story here. 

9:20am - An Auckland protest group is organising a gathering that will see demonstrators walk across the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Saturday. 

The Freedoms and Rights Coalitions, which is connected with Brain Tamaki, posted on Facebook on Wednesday that they are "marching out these mandates". 

They also said there would be protests in Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch on Saturday.

9:10am - ACT is calling on the Government to provide clarity around if Kiwis arriving in the country from Australia next week can bring Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

Health Minister Andrew Little told AM on Thursday that people can bring RATs across the border. 

"People can bring whatever they bring, as long as it's not contraband, they can bring them across the border - including RAT tests," Little told AM on Thursday.

"If travellers bring in any RAT kits, that's a matter for them. 

Here is the full statement from ACT:

"As New Zealand get ready to finally let Kiwis from Australia back into the country, the Government needs to be clear about whether anyone carrying in their own Rapid Antigen Test will have it removed," says ACT Leader David Seymour.

"Our government has jealously guarded access to RAT test and made many of them illegal to everyday Kiwis. At present Australia allows 26 different types of home use test and 67 point of care tests but few of them are available here.

"Kiwis in Australia have been able to freely buy Rapid Antigen Tests at the supermarket, and many have been regularly using them. Now they're allowed to return home, will Customs search their luggage and confiscate any they bring in? Will they be fined for doing so?

"According to a Gazette notice if a Kiwi brings one with them into New Zealand they would be searched and have it seized. The Government needs to tell us whether Customs are under instruction to do this.

"It might sound absurd, but just this week the Ministry of Health sent back a shipment of 2000 Rapid Antigen Tests imported from Australia by an Auckland High School, despite them being approved in Australia and having a higher efficacy rate than the Ministry requires.

"Kiwis who have already been through the emotional wringer by not being able to return home should not fear being searched and having RATs taken from them.

"The cost of failing to secure RATs after banning them, then selectively allowing them, then confiscating them is huge. Productive time will be lost as people who are negative have to keep isolating because they can't prove it, unable to work or see friends and family. We should welcome them coming in from Australia.

"Testing capacity in New Zealand is at breaking point. We need RATs as an alternative to PCR testing and if people can bring in their own, they should be able to.

"The Government needs to immediately approve all tests that are approved in Australia and give an assurance to Kiwis returning home they won't be searched and have their tests taken."

8:53am - The Government is set to announce the next step in the Omicron response. 

It is widely expected the government will announce the move to phase three of the government's response at a scheduled media conference today. 

It comes after New Zealand recorded a record day of 3297 community cases and 179 people in hospital on Wednesday.

Auckland GP Dr John Carter said it was about time.

"We have to move away from swab testing, and there's an announcement that we'll be delivering RAT tests which has come upon us pretty quickly, we've got no real time to figure out how to distribute those to our patients but we'll work it out as we've done all along."

8:31am - People will not be punished, for bringing Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) into the country once the borders open next week.

There've been concerns the self-directed testing kits could be seized at the border when New Zealand citizens from Australia start returning home on Monday. 

Act Party leader David Seymour told AM that the Government will soon face a big decision over Kiwis bringing RATs into the country.

"When those people come home on the 28th, those people have been buying RATs in the supermarkets in Australia," he says.

"Are customs going to search their bags and take their RATs off them because if they are, I think that shows how absurd the situation is and if they are not then they might as well let everyone import them."  

Despite some Kiwis struggling to access RATs, Health Minister Andrew Little is confident there is enough stock in New Zealand. 

"People can bring whatever they bring, as long as it's not contraband, they can bring them across the border - including RAT tests," Little told AM on Thursday.

"If travellers bring in any RAT kits, that's a matter for them. I think what we have, in this country, is to make sure that the RAT tests that are available… have been checked and approved by the [health] ministry as reliable.

"The problem with RAT tests is we know that generally speaking, they have about an 80 percent accuracy rate - you want to make sure that the best RAT tests are available because even with that level of accuracy, that still poses some challenges. 

"We want to get the best RAT kits available and they will be the ones available in New Zealand.

"The Ministry of Health has managed to get quite a few million RAT kits across the border to be available for testing - we want to make sure those who need RAT kits are getting them."

8:12am - As Omicron overwhelms our testing centres, pharmacies are in the firing line as people incorrectly believe they can buy Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) for themselves.

RATs have become the primary testing method in Auckland to help alleviate pressure but supply may be struggling to keep up with demand in some areas.

Frustrated Westmere Pharmacist Samantha Tibshraeny told AM who can and who can't get RATs from pharmacies.

"At the moment pharmacies can only be selling RATs to businesses for their staff, so we aren't giving any RATs to people who are symptomatic or known close contacts," she said.  

Tibshraeny said they have seen an increase in people coming into the pharmacy with COVID symptoms seeking a RAT test. 

"This week we have had an increasing number of people coming into the store with COVID-like symptoms, specifically letting us know they have COVID symptoms who are seeking a RAT test," Tibshraeny told AM on Thursday. 

"We haven't seen a lot of this during the pandemic but with this talk and the increased use of RAT tests at the moment, I feel people think coming into the pharmacy is the right thing to do, so they're here in-store when they're symptomatic. 

"This is not what we want people to be doing and the message needs to be really clear that if you're symptomatic you need to be going to a testing station or following the advice from Healthline."

7:46am - A Corrections spokesperson told Newshub two sex offenders that attended the protest in Wellington were not in "breach of their location or monitoring conditions by attending" but did order them to leave.  

Here is the full statement by corrections:

"We have identified that a small number of people subject to a community based sentence or order with GPS monitoring have attended the protest during the last two weeks, with none in breach of their location or monitoring conditions, Corrections spokesperson says.

"We continue to actively monitor the area to identify anyone subject to GPS monitoring who attends the protest.

"People serving community based sentences or orders must comply with any conditions imposed on them by the Court or New Zealand Parole Board. Corrections role is to monitor and manage an offender’s compliance with those conditions.

"We reviewed the conditions of those that we know have attended the protest and none were in breach of their location or monitoring conditions.

"Two of the people we identified attending the protest are subject to extended supervision orders for sex offending and again, we have no evidence that either of them were in breach of their location or monitoring conditions by attending. Both continue to be monitored 24/7 via GPS monitoring.

"While all people subject to an extended supervision order must comply with a standard condition not to associate with, or contact, a person under the age of 16 years (in accordance with section 107JA of the Parole Act 2002), being present at the same general location as children would not meet the threshold to constitute a breach of their conditions unless we had evidence they were having direct contact with children.

"However, the safety of the community is our top priority and where we can direct someone not to attend a specific location, we are doing so. This includes the two offenders above, along with a further seven offenders in the Wellington region who are subject to extended supervision orders for sexual offending.

"We have a Corrections staff member based in Police’s Major Operations Centre and we continue to actively share information with Police in the interests of public safety.

"Anyone who has been a victim of crime at the protest is urged to get in touch with Police."

7:37am - A new community group has formed to show solidarity with Wellingtonians and call for the ongoing protest at Parliament to end.

The group is called Aotearoa Stronger Together and they want to send a clear message to protesters that "it's time to go home".

Here is the full statement: 

Aotearoa Stronger Together says people all over the country have united in looking after one another in the face of COVID - and that we've seen the strength we have in working together. 

The group is planning a number of actions that people of the city - and allies elsewhere - can take part in together to send a clear message to demonstrators: it's time to #GoHome. 

"Wellingtonians have witnessed and experienced sustained intimidation, harassment, threats, and assault, while just trying to go about their everyday lives," says spokesperson Lauren Hourigan.

"As a city, Wellington is used to and welcomes protest but this is not normal. This is not a peaceful demonstration. This event has been saturated with violent and far-right messages, including signs calling for the execution of public officials and journalists."

Justine Sachs, also a spokesperson for the group, says members of the Jewish community are growing increasingly concerned with the use of anti-semitic message, images and tropes, including signs referring to the Prime Minister as "Jewcinda". 

"This, alongside the images of swastikas, Islamophobic content, confederate flags, and violent misogyny, should be enough for any reasonable person to reject the protest outright", Sachs says.

"The last two years have been incredibly difficult and caused distress for all of us. These are unprecedented times. The answer to this distress is for our communities and government to provide more material support to those who need it."

Hourigan adds that Wellingtonians have shown they strongly believe in our world-leading public health response to COVID-19.

"Wellingtonians have really embraced public health measures to look after each other. Public health measures like mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine mandates have helped to save countless lives.

"After all our communities have gone through, this convoy is the last thing that we need right now. The people of our city don't want this. We are united, we are committed to being in solidarity with each other in support of public health, and we are now taking action. It's time to end the protest."

Aotearoa Stronger Together is planning a series of responses in the coming days and weeks. 

Wellington residents and allies who want to work together to make our communities' voices heard should sign up on the group's

7:31am - Footage has emerged on social media showing a person shoulder charging a member of police at the protest in Wellington that saw the officer fall to the ground. 

Newshub has asked police if they have any information about the incident.

7:24am - A video posted on social media shows a woman celebrating a campervan that "drove straight through the police". 

It comes after tensions boiled over overnight as protesters clashed with police and demonstrators' cars were able to re-enter the occupation area after they moved a bollard.

Sky Stadium announced on Wednesday that free parking for protesters at the stadium would end at 6am on Thursday. 

6:50am - ACT is calling on the Government to remove COVID rules that they say "don't make sense". 

ACT Party leader David Seymour told AM on Thursday that the Government hasn't been prepared for Omicron. 

"Unfortunately it's been a pattern, they weren't ready for Delta and this time they weren't ready for Omicron," Seymour says. 

"I suspect they will announce phase three today but even that is far too late because it's not based on case numbers it's based on the number of people testing positive at the Government's testing stations. 

"Now we know people are waiting seven days for their results, some are told their results will never be delivered and if we do get to phase 3, not only will it be too late but it's unworkable. 

"A 10-day isolation period if you test positive, well that is far too long. You should be able to get a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RATs) and leave your isolation."  

Seymour says the current COVID restrictions in place aren't slowing the spread of Omicron and need to go.  

"We are putting in restrictions that achieve very little in slowing the spread of Omicron but will have massive impacts on people's ability to earn an income and on business's ability to keep serving the community with supply chains that work," Seymour told AM on Thursday.

"So look it really is a shame and I think it's time to move on and get rid of rules that don't make sense."

Seymour is also calling on the Government to open the borders now saying it's "inhumane" how overseas Kiwis have been separated. 

"Pretty soon there will be so many cases in New Zealand that the world will wonder why we are keeping them out," he says.

"It is inhumane the way we have separated the million overseas that make up the team of six million, they should be allowed to come home now, home isolate for three days the way they have in other countries and get out with a negative test."  

New Zealand will open its borders to Kiwis in Australia from next week, Seymour says the Government will soon face a big decision.

"Many New Zealanders, the Prime Minister says, will be excitedly welcomed home on Monday," he says. 

"When those people come home on the 28th, those people have been buying RATs in the supermarket in Australia, are customs going to search their bags and take their RATs off them because if they are, I think that shows how absurd the situation is and if they are not then they might as well let everyone import them."    

6:43am - Here is footage of protesters moving the concrete bollard on Wednesday night that allowed cars to return to the demonstrator area.

It comes after Sky Stadium announced that free parking for protesters at the stadium would end at 6am on Thursday.

6:20am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak and the Parliament protest for Thursday, February 24.