As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, February 23

The Ministry of Health has announced another record day of cases with 3297 new infections and 179 people in hospital on Wednesday.

It comes after APEX Union National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell told AM on Wednesday that many people will not get their test results back, due to the delays at the labs.

Meanwhile, the anti-mandate protest has stretched into a 16th day with Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt saying that the protesters he listened to on Tuesday felt "broken and discarded".

He said listening to the point of view of the demonstrators is an important step in preventing the protest from dragging on.

What you need to know:

  • There were 3297 new community COVID cases in New Zealand on Wednesday.
  • Location of new community cases: 1729 are in Auckland, 455 in Southern, 297 in Waikato, 176 in Canterbury, 157 in Bay of Plenty, 123 in Capital and Coast, 85 in Nelson Marlborough, 56 in MidCentral, 54 in Lakes, 40 in Northland, 30 in Taranaki,  28 in Hutt Valley, 18 in Hawke's Bay, 16 in Tairāwhiti, 16 in Wairarapa, seven in South Canterbury, five in Whanganui and three in West Coast.
  • Number of new cases identified at the border on Wednesday: 8
  • Cases in hospital on Wednesday: Total number 179; 68 are in Middlemore, 58 in Auckland, 33 in North Shore, eight in Waikato, four in Tauranga, three in Lakes, two in Hutt Valley, two in Canterbury and one in Capital and Coast. 
  • There are "at least two" positive COVID-19 cases among the Wellington protesters, the Ministry of Health says.
  • The Parliament protest is on day 16.
  • You can see the latest locations of interest here.

These live updates have finished.

9:25pm - Following the release of the NZMA's 'red letter' yesterday, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (the College) and General Practice New Zealand (GPNZ) say they are clear that general practice will continue to be a vital part of Aotearoa's COVID-19 response during the Omicron outbreak.

"The community health sector has pivoted, upskilled, transformed, and changed constantly over the last two years to meet the needs of its patients, and will continue to do so," says College president Dr Samantha Murton says.

Dr Rachel Mackie, chair of Te Akoranga a Māui, the College's special Māori GP representative group supports that kōrero, adds: "Often our Māori and Pacific GPs have an added expectation from their communities to support our people in a more holistic way, or where healthcare goes beyond their clinical needs.

"We do not have enough of these GPs available to support our at-risk communities, and they are so overloaded with mahi they are at greater risk of burnout."

With 19,026 active cases of COVID, 179 cases in hospital and one in ICU, they say it is reassuring that not many people require hospital level care. But that means most of the COVID-19 management has been and continues to be in the community, as well as ongoing COVID vaccinating and testing.

"General practice teams continue to be there to look after their patients. But our workforce is hugely stretched and fatigued, and our concern is how we support our communities into the future beyond COVID-19, particularly with the backlog of essential work such as screening and childhood immunisation to protect the wellbeing of our population in the longer term," Dr Murton says.

Chair of GPNZ, Dr Jeff Lowe highlighted the need for the current health system reforms to support the primary and community health sector, which provides most of the care to most of the people most of the time.

"The focus is still too much on what happens in the hospital, when we require proper support and resourcing of our primary and community care providers to avoid people needing hospital care in the first place," he says.

"The solution is not to push responsibility for care onto another part of the system that is under just as much pressure."

8:55pm - Pukekohe High School is asking all year 11, 12, and 13 students to continue learning from home for the rest of this week.

"As most of our community are aware we have had multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our school which has seen many of our students and staff being identified as 'close contacts'," the school says.

"This means we do not have enough teachers to supervise all of our classes, which is a health safety issue."

The school will remain open for year 9 and 10 students only.

8:45pm - The Southern DHB reported the second-highest daily case numbers today, annoucning 455.

This brings the total number of active cases to 1145. Of these, 584 are in Dunedin, 329 in Queenstown-Lakes, 43 in Invercargill, 13 in Central Otago, eight each in the remaining Southland area and Gore, seven in Waitaki, and four in Clutha. There are 136 cases where their location in TBC.

The majority of new cases announced on Wednesday were in Dunedin - 233.

8:30pm - Counties Manukau DHB has by far the highest number of cases in the country, making up 57 percent of Auckland's active cases and 40 percent of cases in the entire country.

Middlemore Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr Vanessa Thornton says it's putting pressure on staff, on the hospital and on beds.

Last week one in 10 people presenting to the emergency department at Middlemore Hospital had COVID-19, now it's one in five.

"Twenty percent of the presentations to the hospital are positive with COVID, obviously not all of those are admitted," Dr Thornton says.

Read and watch the full story from Newshub's health correspondent Lucy Warhurst here.

8pm - Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick is urging people to get vaccinated and get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms to help protect themselves from the virus.

Chadwick is currently recovering from COVID-19 after feeling "extremely unwell" with severe flu-like symptoms.

"This has certainly highlighted for me how real and potentially severe COVID can be and the need to take the pandemic seriously," she says.

"This was not like any flu I have experienced before – it hit me very hard and I am fully vaccinated and boosted and generally fit and healthy. I'm feeling much better now but still not 100 percent.

"I have followed all instructions and have been impressed with the follow-up including daily checks from a nurse and contact from my GP, so I've been very well supported by the health sector and by the council organisation and friends which I’ve appreciated very much."

Chadwick says her experience has served as a stark reminder for her about the importance of vaccination and boosters to reduce the spread and the severity of symptoms.

"If you're eligible for your booster, don't put it off, especially given the rapid increase in Omicron case numbers we are now seeing," she says.

"Get tested if you have symptoms and isolate until you're all clear – and be patient and kind to those working so hard at our testing stations which we know are stretched due to increased demand."

Neither Chadwick nor another member of the council organisation who is a likely case (pending test results) have been in the office while symptomatic. Close contacts have been notified and tomorrow's council meeting, which the mayor will chair, will be held via Zoom as a precautionary measure. Today's Lakes Community Board meeting was also held via Zoom.

Read the council's full update here.

7:30pm - There was calm in Parliament's protest pit on Wednesday as police and protesters recovered from 24 hours of mayhem. 

But the nightmares of a super-spreader event in the thousands-strong crowd may have come true with the first positive protester cases confirmed by the Ministry of Health. 

The police took back the streets car by car on Tuesday evening. Officers joked around with protesters as they tried to shrink the occupation further. It was a stark contrast to Tuesday morning's events which included riot gear and carnage. 

Read and watch the full story from Newshub's political editor Jenna Lynch.

7pm - The following is an update from Waikato DHB on COVID-19 testing in the area:

Demand for testing continues to be high in the Waikato as the Omicron outbreaks grows. However, the long waits for people to get a test has eased with the rollout of RATs at Greenwood and Founders Theatre testing sites. There is currently no wait time for people to get tested or receive their Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) if eligible.  

RATs are being rolled out to the other Waikato COVID-19 testing sites which will help with the demand.  General practice are also gearing up to provide RATs over the coming weeks. 

We are still experiencing delays with the return of COVID-19 test results with a high number awaiting processing. Waikato DHB’s laboratory continues to expand capacity but is advising that non-priority test results may currently take up to seven days. High priority swabs are being resulted within 48 hours.    

People who have a PCR test will be notified via text with a link for them to record their positive result and complete an assessment form to indicate what support may be required for their isolation period.  

There are still high numbers of tests being requested for those who do not meet the criteria. People should only get tested if they have cold or flu symptoms, have been identified as a close contact of a case, or have been asked to get tested by a health official. 

As more people use RATs for COVID-19 testing it will relieve pressure on the laboratory, ensuring those who are unwell and more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 get timely test results.  

It is important if people complete a RAT that they register the result on This will link them up to ensure their welfare and manaaki needs are met. 

Household and close contacts can also go online and order their RAT to complete their testing regime online with Ministry of Health guidance. 

A new testing regime where RATs will be used as the primary test is being rolled out and that will mean symptomatic people and/or asymptomatic close contacts whose RAT is positive will be considered a case and do not need to be verified through a PCR test. This will further relieve pressure on the system. This change will be rolled out to Waikato and other centres.

6:25pm - Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says there are two more COVID-19 cases in the nation.

This brings the total number of currently positive cases to six.

"These cases – cases five and six – arrived in Rarotonga from New Zealand together onboard Air NZ flight NZ946 on Saturday, February 19, accompanied by a third travelling companion," he says.

"All three visitors, two of whom were symptomatic with runny noses and mild fever, went to the airport testing station yesterday afternoon on February 21 after one of them was informed that a friend they had had contact with three days earlier had just tested positive for COVID-19 in New Zealand.

"Results from their RAT tests came back with two positive and one negative for the asymptomatic travelling companion."

All three were told to go back to their hotel and were later swabbed for PCR testing. Their PCR results came back yesterday evening, again with two positive results and one remaining negative.

"Both cases five and six have been issued 10-day isolation orders, while their travelling companion who tested negative has been placed under a 10-day quarantine and will be tested again on days five and nine of their quarantine period," Brown says.

"Our contact tracing investigations have so far identified 13 close contacts of these two new positive cases. These contacts are mainly from the visitors' inbound flight and those who had contact with them upon their arrival on February 19.

"All close contacts have been contacted and formally placed under quarantine orders and will be PCR tested today, as well as on days five and nine of their quarantine periods. They are all currently asymptomatic."

All six cases are fully vaccinated and none have required hospital treatment.

6:05pm - There is one new location of interest. It is:

  • Emergency Department Waiting Room Palmerston North Hospital, February 22 from 8:45pm to 10:15pm.

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.

5:45pm - Anti-mandate protesters blasted Michael Jackson's 'They Don't Care About Us' over speakers and shouted at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during her visit to Westport. 

The small group of about less than 20 protesters on Wednesday also played Twisted Sister's 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and held signs that read 'This is not our New Zealand' and 'I'm vaxxed and pro freedom of choice'.

The Prime Minister did not engage with the protesters, and when speaking to reporters in Westport, described their anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate sentiment as "not new". 

"Since we had vaccines come into New Zealand as part of our pandemic response, there have been those opposed to them, and that's been something that I've had on my visits from time to time ever since we started vaccinating people. It's not new," Ardern said. 

"I choose not to focus on what is often a small handful of people and instead rather focus on the majority of people who have gone out - 95 percent of them have been vaccinated - and that is what's going to get us through."

Read the full story here.

5:15pm - The Ministry of Health says it is aware of at least two positive COVID-19 test results among the group of Wellington protesters.

"Due to privacy concerns, we are not in a position to confirm whether or not they were arrested by Police," they say.

"Those who have tested positive have been instructed to isolate themselves."

5:10pm - There are three new locations of interest. They are:

  • Eagle Ridge Ohauiti, February 12 from 12:30pm to 7:30pm
  • The Eagle Bar Auckland CBD, February 13 from 12am to 3am
  • Les Mills BODYPUMP Class Newmarket, February 15 from 4:45pm to 5:15pm.

5pm - Union members who work at parliament are calling for an end to intimidation, harassment and violence from the protestors who are occupying Parliament grounds.

A survey this week of members who work in the parliamentary precinct showed over 90 percent of members were either 'concerned' or 'very concerned' about the protest and the impact it is having on their health and safety.

E tū and PSA have many different groups of members at parliament, including cleaners, security, Parliamentary Service staff, Ministerial Services staff, Office of the Clerk and DPMC staff and MPs.

The most common reason for concern was worry about the physical safety of their colleagues. Other reasons included worrying about their own safety, being harassed while travelling to and from work, and the safety and wellbeing of children at the protest and in the community around Parliament.

Nearly half of respondents reported being verbally harassed on their way to and from work. Women and younger workers were more likely to be harassed. Six percent of respondents had been physically harassed and over 80 percent knew someone who had been.

There was strong support that the protest should end and protesters be removed from the surrounding streets.

"Imagine it – weeks of people camped outside your workplace targeting you and your colleagues for doing your jobs," E tū organiser, Anaru Ryall says.

"While almost everyone finds the protests annoying and frustrating, many are finding it genuinely scary, as some of the protesters call for executions and other violence.

"On top of that, they are calling for removal of the public health measures that have kept us safe and continue to keep us from the worst effects of the pandemic that we have seen overseas. The level of disinformation about the vaccine is deeply concerning.

"E tū strongly supports the Government's vaccine roll out plan and urges the protesters to leave peacefully now, and please get vaccinated."

PSA organiser, David Coates agrees.

"Everyone supports the right to protest, to democratically express our views. Nobody disputes that. But these public health measures are in place to keep us all safe. To suggest otherwise is a disturbing aspect of the wider spread of disinformation," he says.

"PSA supports the vaccination programme as an important aspect of the COVID-19 response and urges the protesters to leave peacefully and, in the interests of all, to get vaccinated.

"I am sure the results of this survey reflect the concerns of workers throughout the city.

"The impacts of the harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and general intimidation has an obvious and concerning impact on mental wellbeing. This occupation is affecting people's ability to attend their place of work, to conduct their normal duties and go about their daily lives."

4:35pm - No mask is useless against COVID-19 - that's the message from Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson.

Dr Jackson's comments are in response to claims made by NZ First leader Winston Peters, defending his decision not to wear a mask when visiting Parliament's anti-mandate protest grounds on Tuesday.

Peters told AM on Wednesday "the masks being offered these days, unless they're highly surgical masks of a certain scientific and medical content, are a waste of time".

"If you use the wrong mask it's next to useless, you've got to use the right one and all the specialists are saying that, and so why aren't they available for people?"

But Peters' comments were incorrect, Dr Jackson said.

"Winston has no idea what he is talking about," Dr Jackson told Newshub.

Read the full story here.

4:10pm - Auckland's St Patrick's Festival planned for March 13 has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Festival chairperson Russell O'Brien said it was disappointing that the festival would not go ahead but the safety of the community was paramount.

"It's been a tough few years for live events and we know the Irish community in New Zealand will understand the difficulty of holding a festival in the current climate. We look forward to coming back bigger and better than ever in 2023."

The St Patrick's Festival Trust thanked its partners Hugh Green Group, Barfoot & Thompson, Ireland Abroad, Foundation North, Lion Foundation, and The Community Trusts Foundation for their support. They also thanked their volunteers and performers who have been part of the festival.

3:55pm - Anti-mandate protesters are sharing a photo of a man wearing a hearing aid as supposed evidence police have infiltrated the protest to stir up violence. 

Protesters have been trying to distance themselves from the violence on Tuesday by suggesting police or others are deliberately pretending to be protesters to cause trouble - a claim they have no proof of and the police have denied

The photo is of a man who is believed to have set fireworks off in the middle of a crowd. Protesters and their supporters have taken to social media to suggest his earpiece is proof he's an undercover police officer. 

"Look at his ear.. same earpiece as cops are wearing!! This guy was firing fireworks at us!!" 'FUBAR nz', who is raising money for the protesters, wrote on Twitter.

"Police / co-opters working to discredit peaceful protest at Wellington Parliament Freedom Village - this guy firing fireworks into crowd was pictured with the same earpiece as the cops. Whats wrong with these people, they don't even hide their crimes on the people," another person tweeted.

But a spokesperson for Deaf Aotearoa said the device was actually a hearing aid.

Read the full story here.

3:35pm - Auckland's The Grove restaurant is temporarily closing as a result of COVID-19.

An email sent to customers on Wednesday says some staff have been exposed to the virus and they can't operate without a full team.

"We will be temporarily closing our doors, and pausing all bookings and reservations from today Wednesday 23rd February 2022, until all our staff are safe, healthy and well again," they say.

"We are saddened by this news, but want to do the right thing to ensure our restaurant can reopen as soon as possible, and we can welcome you back.

"We will be in touch when we have an understanding of such date, but for now, take care and stay safe."

3:30pm - Auckland Councillor Daniel Newman is calling for more assistance to ensure orderly testing of the public in response to traffic chaos and chronic queuing at centres in south Auckland.

The Manurewa-Papakura Ward Councillor says the consolidating of testing at the Takanini Vaccination Centre at Great South Road is turning an existing vehicle choke-point into a carpark at peak times.

"We need to get an alternative testing location in place and I am advocating directly with health officials to help manage the surge in public demand. We cannot block the Great South Road for hours each day. People need to access tests and we need to ensure the safe conveyance of motorists to and from one of the busiest interchanges on Auckland's motorway network," Newman says.

"I have also requested traffic management assistance to support our clinical teams at Weymouth Road. Currently between 500 and 600 tests are being conducted at the Mountfort Park site, which is at the heart of one of the areas of New Zealand where COVID-positive cases are highest."

Newman says people are queuing up Weymouth Road and parking on footpaths all the way into Friedlanders Road.

He adds that even though the Ministry of Health has said only symptomatic people and close contacts should get tested, people are telling him they are lining up because their employers want peace of mind.

"Wage-workers in south Auckland are lining up for many hours to get tested because their livelihood depends on it. The lack of rapid antigen test kits available to the public has not helped," Newman says.

"We simply have to assist the public and I cannot leave it up to the clinicians to manage traffic flow concurrently to conducting PCR tests. We simply need more support and we need it immediately."

3:10pm - The following is a statement from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters on the Wellington protest:

If the Government had opened dialogue on day one – as governments have done with every other protest on the grounds of parliament, we wouldn't be in this position to begin with.  The reason they didn't is because, for the first time in living memory, every politician from the Prime Minister down signed a pact not to engage with a lawfully democratic protest on parliament grounds. 

This protest needs to end.  The violence needs to end.  The disruption needs to end.  It should have ended weeks ago. 

My presence at the protest yesterday was for one reason and one reason only – to show that if any politician has the guts to go and engage they can.  It was not to endorse the protest or protesters, nor of course to signal any sort of support for the minority who continue to exhibit violent behaviour.  It is plain to see that if dialogue is not established soon things will just continue to get much worse. 

The protest should never have been allowed to grow to become so entrenched and able to fester to the boiling point of violence that we are now witnessing.  Small anti-establishment and disruptive groups have been given an open door to clash with law enforcement at every opportunity and have been inexcusably painted by media as the face and nature of the entire protest.  Those groups need to be dealt with swiftly and without sympathy, but equally we cannot allow those select few to be viewed as being typical of the thousands of other peaceful, law-abiding protesters who just want to be heard.

Those soundbites and pictures of violence broadcast by media might help paint the narrative for the Government – but are far from the truth.  The vast majority are ordinary Kiwis who are just fed-up.  What the Government fails to grasp is that this isn’t about the protesters at parliament – there are hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who have had enough and the Government ignores those kiwis at their peril.

The protest has now grown so complex and at times unruly that neither the police nor the politicians know when or how this will end.  Make no mistake, the Government has created the environment for this violence to take hold, and the Speaker of the House has inexplicably continued to throw fuel on the fire with his juvenile power-drunk behaviour.

This is not a policing problem, this is a political problem.  If the government continues to ignore and gaslight the protesters it will make the Springbok Tour protest look like a Mickey Mouse concert.

What is clear is that the Government is giving every indication they will continue with this stupidly relentless position.  To the point where they have openly discussed considering bringing the defence force in.  This is how far down the rabbit hole every politician in parliament has been dragged by this arrogant government. 

This isn't the New Zealand we grew up in.

This is a situation that only dialogue will solve and if the politicians can't see that then we are all witnessing a most avoidable disaster unfolding right in front of us.

Winston Peters visited the protest on Tuesday.
Winston Peters visited the protest on Tuesday. Photo credit: Newshub.

2:50pm - St Mary's College in Wellington is the latest school to close as a result of the protest.

Principal Andrew Murray says learning at home will start of Thursday and remain online until March 1.

He says it is unsafe to walk around the area at the moment given the number of protesters, school buses aren't able to operate properly, and parents and students have expressed their concern about the level of safety near the school.

"As you are aware, the safety and well-being of our students and staff is paramount. This is an unusual situation, which has caught many by surprise and we must respond appropriately," Murray says.

"I am incredibly appreciative of the staff and students' efforts thus far, as well as the Board's support. This is a significant challenge for all of us."

2:35pm - Tourism Industry Aotearoa says operators are seeing their revenue plunging, according to a new survey.  

TIA says it worked with a network of tourism sector associations to survey industry operators about the current state of business. Almost 200 operators responded to the pulse survey which was conducted between February 17 and February 21. 

Respondents expect their revenues will be down by 59.8 percent on average for the period February 1 to April 30 April 2022, compared to the same period of 2021. This in turn was half that of pre-COVID levels due to the loss of income from international visitors. 

A total 95 percent of respondents classified the current operating environment as difficult, with 66 percent saying it is extremely difficult. 

"The survey results paint a clear picture of the challenges facing the tourism industry as a result of the red setting. Respondents were from every region in Aotearoa New Zealand and represented accommodation, transport, activities and attractions, as well as events, hospitality and tourism services," TIA communications manager Ann-Marie Johnson says. 

"Many tourism businesses are arguably now in the most difficult financial position they have been since the pandemic began, with New Zealanders reverting to a lockdown mentality and not travelling. TIA is sharing these results with the Government and is continuing to advocate for targeted support until we can get back to business."

See the full survey results here.

2:15pm - Here is a statement from Minister of Health Andrew Little in response to the NZ Medical Association's "red letter" warning yesterday:

Thanks to actions New Zealand has taken over the past two years, the country, our health system and health workers have been protected from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic seen elsewhere. Who can forget the scenes of overwhelmed hospitals and clinics in Italy, the United States and many other countries?

That has not happened in New Zealand. Our initial strategy of elimination, and now of minimisation, saved thousands of lives and gave us the time to get vaccinated and get ready, and our health system has been able to keep functioning.

Now, as the Omicron wave moves through the country, the entire health system will be treating more people with COVID-19. The Government acknowledges the important role that GPs and other community healthcare workers have to play in treating as many people as possible at home so our hospitals are kept free for those who really need them, and that for many of them, this is the first time they have had to deal with COVID.

The Government has provided nearly $1 billion to support community healthcare for COVID patients. The Government is fully funding treatment by GPs, and most assessments are expected to be done remotely by phone or online.

This includes $395 million for the provision of primary-care services, including Kaupapa Māori and Pacific Health services; $25 million for community pharmacy services, including virtual advice and management and delivery of medicines to those isolating; and $5m of translation services to support primary care.

GPs and their representative bodies have been involved in the design and roll-out of the Care In the Community model at every stage, including agreeing contracts about levels of funding.

The Ministry of Health continues to meet regularly with the Royal New Zealand College of GPs and has held a number webinars with GPs that have frequently had more than 1000 attendees.

The Ministry also regularly meets with clinical leaders from Primary Health Organisations representing most PHOs in the country and facilitated by General Practice New Zealand.

The COVID Care in the Community work stream sits within the Ministry of Health’s Health System Preparedness Programme. The chair of General Practice New Zealand sits on the Ministry’s advisory group and the President of Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners is on the assurance group.

The email from the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) was sent yesterday after a meeting with the Director General of Health.  The NZMA did not raise the issues in the email with the Director-General.

2:05pm - Over in Queensland, Australia, there are 6301 new COVID-19 cases and 37 deaths.

A total 379 people are in hospital, 35 of whom are in ICU.

1:45pm - Here is an update from police on protest activity at Parliament:

Police have noted a number of people and vehicles leaving the protest at Parliament in recent days.

Overnight, Police spoke to a number of motorists on Molesworth Street, who then voluntarily moved their vehicles.

A free Sky Stadium parking offer for protesters, designed to encourage them to clear their vehicles from block roads, will come to an end after today. 

From tomorrow, the Stadium has signalled its intent to return to normal business operations, and will charge vehicles for parking.

This was a decision made jointly between the Stadium and Police.

Police and stadium staff will be onsite to help manage the smooth exit of vehicles.

A visible presence remains at Parliament today as Police continue to monitor protest activity.
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 today conducting reassurance patrols around the outer edge of the cordon, speaking to businesses and residents impacted by the protest action.

There were no arrests overnight.

Police, including AOS, responded to a report of a man with a firearm walking in Frank Kitts Park about 7:20 this morning.

Police quickly located the man and found he was not in possession of a firearm.

He was carrying what appeared to be a taiaha.

No further Police action was required.

Police will continue to take any reports regarding weapons seriously.

Staff injured yesterday are back at work and doing well.

Constructive discussions with protesters are ongoing and Police continue to allow the service of both food supplies and portaloos at the protest, although vehicles are not permitted through any of the Police-controlled cordons to enter the area.

Police are aware of comments online around possible sexual assaults at the protest, however, we are not immediately aware of any reports of such behaviour.

Anyone who has experienced assault at the protest is urged to get in touch with Police immediately.

As it happened: Latest on Parliament protest, COVID-19 community outbreak - Wednesday, February 23
Photo credit: Getty Images

1:21pm - The ministry has provided an update on the Southern DHB:

Updates of note

In recent days, the number of cases reported for Southern DHB has been lower than the true number because a large number of people have tested positive who have National Health Numbers linked to a home address outside of the Southern DHB region – these cases have been included in other regions’ case counts.

A large number of people who returned a positive result in the Southern region yesterday who have addresses outside of the region are included in Southern’s case count today after work by health officials to reclassify the cases. This explains why there is a larger increase in Southern’s cases reported today compared with previous days.  

It is important to note that a case undercount anywhere in the country does not significantly impact our assessment of the outbreak, public health decision-making or public health advice.

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.

1:20pm - Here is the latest data from the Ministry of Health on the outbreak and vaccination campaign:

COVID-19 vaccine update

Vaccinations administered in New Zealand  

  • Vaccines administered to date: 4,017,433 first doses; 3,954,560 second doses; 32,757 third primary doses; 2,223,385 booster doses: 230,960 paediatric first doses and 2,081 paediatric second doses. 
  • Vaccines administered yesterday: 566 first doses; 1,239 second doses; 178 third primary doses; 25,367 booster doses; 1,368 paediatric first doses and 118 paediatric second doses.   

People vaccinated  (including those vaccinated overseas)

  • All Ethnicities (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 4,060,013 partially vaccinated (96.5%); 3,995,818 second doses (94.9%), 2,225,028 boosted (67.7% of those eligible).* 
  • Māori (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 518,191 partially vaccinated (90.7%); 496,668 second doses (87%), 185,703 boosted (57% of those eligible)
  • Pacific Peoples (percentage of eligible people aged 12+): 280,206 first doses (97.7%); 273,850 second doses (95.5%), 111,346 boosted (54.5% of those eligible) 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds all ethnicities: 230,871 first doses (48.5%) 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds - Māori: 33,328 first doses (28.8%). 
  • 5 to 11-year-olds - Pacific Peoples: 19,849 first doses (40.2%)  

*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: partially vaccinated (90.3%); fully vaccinated (87.7%); boosted (66.9%) 
  • Auckland Metro DHB: partially vaccinated (97.3%); fully vaccinated (96%); boosted (64.5%) 
  • Waikato DHB: partially vaccinated (95.2%); fully vaccinated (93.4%); boosted (64.3%) 
  • Bay of Plenty DHB: partially vaccinated (95.2%); fully vaccinated (93.1%); boosted (65.3%) 
  • Lakes DHB: partially vaccinated (93.6%); fully vaccinated (91.3%); boosted (66%) 
  • MidCentral DHB: partially vaccinated (96.8%); fully vaccinated (95.1%); boosted (70.3%) 
  • Tairāwhiti DHB: partially vaccinated (93.2%); fully vaccinated (90.5%); boosted (66.7%) 
  • Whanganui DHB: partially vaccinated (92.3%); fully vaccinated (90.4%); boosted (71.4%) 
  • Hawke’s Bay DHB: partially vaccinated (97.1%); fully vaccinated (95%); boosted (69%) 
  • Taranaki DHB: partially vaccinated (94.8%); fully vaccinated (93%); boosted (65%) 
  • Wairarapa DHB: partially vaccinated (96.7%); fully vaccinated (94.9%); boosted (73.1%) 
  • Capital & Coast DHB: partially vaccinated (98.7%); fully vaccinated (97.7%); boosted (74.8%) 
  • Hutt Valley DHB: partially vaccinated (96.9%); fully vaccinated (95.6%); boosted (72%) 
  • Nelson Marlborough DHB: partially vaccinated (96.8%); fully vaccinated (95.2%); boosted (74.7%) 
  • West Coast DHB: partially vaccinated (93%); fully vaccinated (91%); boosted (71.5%) 
  • Canterbury DHB: partially vaccinated (99.7%); fully vaccinated (98.5%); boosted (69.1%) 
  • South Canterbury DHB: partially vaccinated (95.4%); fully vaccinated (94%); boosted (72.5%) 
  • Southern DHB: partially vaccinated (97.8%); fully vaccinated (96.5%); boosted (72.5%) 


  • Cases in hospital: total number 179: North Shore: 33; Middlemore: 68; Auckland: 58; Tauranga: 4; Lakes: 3; Waikato: 8; Hutt Valley: 2; Capital and Coast: 1; Canterbury: 2
  • Average age of current hospitalisations: 51
  • Cases in ICU or HDU: 1
  • Vaccination status of current hospitalisations (Northern Region only, excluding Emergency Departments): Unvaccinated or not eligible (19 cases / 14.7%); partially immunised <7 days from second dose or have only received one dose (4 cases / 3.1%); fully vaccinated at least 7 days before being reported as a case (64 cases / 49.6%%); unknown (15 cases / 11.6%)


  • Seven day rolling average of community cases: 2,257
  • Seven day rolling average of border cases: 8
  • Number of new community cases: 3,297
  • Location of new community cases*: Northland (40), Auckland (1,729), Waikato (297), Bay of Plenty (157), Lakes (54), Hawke’s Bay (18), MidCentral (56), Whanganui (5), Taranaki (30), Tairāwhiti (16), Wairarapa (16), Capital and Coast (123), Hutt Valley (28), Nelson Marlborough (85), Canterbury (176), South Canterbury (7), Southern (455), West Coast (3)
  • 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): 21,648 (cases identified in the past 21 days and not yet classified as recovered) 
  • Confirmed cases (total): 38,951

* 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.


  • Number of tests total (last 24 hours): 27,550
  • Tests rolling average (last 7 days): 28,951
  • Testing positivity (last 24 hours): 12.2%
  • Number of Rapid Antigen Tests stock available in New Zealand: 6.9 million

1:19pm - The ministry has provided an update on the booster rollout and a testing reminder:

People in the capital and at the top of the South are leading the charge in getting their booster shots in the fight against Omicron, with 75% of eligible people from the both Capital & Coast and Nelson-Marlborough DHBs having now had their booster.

Collectively, this represents almost a quarter of a million people across both regions who have stepped up in recent weeks, contributing to more than 2.2 million New Zealanders who have played their part in getting their booster so far.

We’re asking everyone who has had a booster to remind their friends and whanau to do the same – people are eligible for a booster dose if it has been more than three months since their second dose.

A high rate of booster doses across the country will lower the number of people becoming severely ill from Omicron and ensure there is capacity in our health system for anyone who needs care.

There were 25,367 booster doses administered across the motu yesterday.

Testing reminder

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly, a significant number of concerned people who don’t need a test are going to get a test are continuing to turn up – those are people who don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms and are not a contact of a case.

The Ministry of Health continues to stress the importance of the right people being tested for the right reasons.

People should only get tested if they have cold or flu symptoms, have been identified as a close contact of a case, or have been asked to get tested by a health official.

1:18pm - The Ministry of Health has announced another record day of cases with 3297 new infections and 179 people in hospital on Wednesday.

Of the new community infections, 1729 are in Auckland, 455 in Southern, 297 in Waikato, 176 in Canterbury, 157 in Bay of Plenty, 123 in Capital and Coast, 85 in  Nelson Marlborough, 56 in MidCentral, 54 in Lakes, 40 in Northland, 30 in Taranaki,  28 in Hutt Valley, 18 in Hawke's Bay, 16 in Tairāwhiti, 16 in Wairarapa, seven in South Canterbury, five in Whanganui and three in West Coast.

The ministry announced another record day of hospitalisations with 179 people in hospital with one in ICU or HDU.

Of the 179 people in hospital: 68 are in Middlemore, 58 in Auckland, 33 in North Shore, eight in Waikato, four in Tauranga, three in Lakes, two in Hutt Valley, two in Canterbury and one in Capital and Coast. 

There are eight new COVID cases recorded at the border in Managed Isolation and Quarantine.

1:16pm - We are continuing to wait for the Ministry of Health to provide the latest COVID figures and we'll bring them to you when it comes through. 

1:08pm - While we wait for the Ministry of Health to reveal Wednesday's daily COVID figures very shortly, National has launched a Rapid Antigen Test (RATs) petition to allow RATs in supermarkets and pharmacies. 

Here is the full statement: 

National is launching a campaign to demand that the Government allow pharmacies and supermarkets to sell rapid antigen tests, Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

"Rapid antigen tests are available from supermarkets and pharmacies in almost every other developed country, but not in New Zealand.

"Testing centres are being overwhelmed, with people who just want to do the right thing having to wait in queues for hours and then up to seven days for the results. It's not good enough.

"The Government needs to allow pharmacies and supermarkets to sell them, immediately legalise every rapid test available in Australia, stop confiscating private stocks, and fix the Close Contact Exemption Scheme so that every business and every school is eligible.

"Rapid tests should be widely available right now, so people worried about whether or not they have Covid can easily pick up a pack from a pharmacy or supermarket and test themselves.

"This is about personal responsibility, which is a foreign concept to this controlling Labour Government, but something that Kiwis - and National - strongly believe in.

"The Government dropped the ball on rapid testing. National has been calling for rapid antigen tests to be added to our testing toolbox for a year now.

"Rather than listen to us, Labour banned rapid tests for most of 2021. Then after belatedly allowing some companies to import them in November 2021, it confiscated tests imported by those companies to cover up their own incompetence at not ordering enough, early enough.

"New Zealanders are crying out for rapid tests. We're asking Kiwis to sign our petition and demand the Government makes the tests available in supermarkets and pharmacies now."

Kiwis can sign the petition at

12:57pm - The Ministry of Health has announced that Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) will be used as the primary test at Auckland community testing centres (CTCs) from today to help meet demand for testing as the Omicron outbreak grows. 

The move, which is part of the ministry's planned testing strategy, follows RATs being rolled out to CTCs in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Southern yesterday to be used in conjunction with PCR tests in those centres. 

RATS will be rolled out to CTCs at other centres across the country this week. The site will determine which test (PCR or RAT) is best for you. 

In Auckland, if people feel uncomfortable doing a RAT or a staff member identifies it as being appropriate, they may still get a PCR test. 

It was anticipated that as the outbreak grows, more people would have COVID-19 and there would be more close contacts who need to be tested. 

The increased use of RATs in Phase 2 and Phase 3 of our response will relieve pressure on the PCR testing and reserve it for those who are unwell and more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. 

The new testing regime in Auckland will mean symptomatic people and/or asymptomatic close contacts whose RAT is positive will be considered a case and do not need to be verified through a PCR test. This will further relieve pressure on the system. This change will also be rolled out to other centres. 

After testing, people will need to record their result in My Covid Record, as well as advise their employer. If you cannot access My Covid Record, then they should call 0800 222 478. 

Although there are still significant global supply constraints, we have secured the delivery of enough RATs to help New Zealand through a widespread Omicron outbreak in the coming months. There are currently 6.9 million RATs in the system with around 14.7 million expected by the end of the month. 

The growing outbreak across the country has resulted in laboratories no longer being able to pool their PCR testing capacity, which had previously helped reduce pressure in areas with high case numbers. There is a current baseline capacity of around 31,000 PCR tests per day.

12:50pm - More than 2600 workers have been stood down across some of the Government's sectors mandated to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Vaccination is mandatory for workers across several sectors: border, health, education, police, Defence Force, Corrections, Fire and Emergency, and close contact businesses that operate vaccine certificates under the traffic light system. 

The health sector is one of the most impacted, with 1461 workers affected across the 20 District Health Boards (DHBs), according to the latest update on December 23. 

In total, 226 people had been stood down, 140 staff had resigned, and 814 had their employment terminated. It included 44 doctors, 418 nurses and 72 midwives. Some were awaiting the outcome of applications for medical exemptions.

Fire and Emergency has also been hit by the mandates, with around 945 unvaccinated staff and volunteers currently not responding to incidents. 

While the exact figure has not been provided to Newshub, a spokesperson said around 7 percent of the 13,500 workers covered by the mandate were no longer attending incidents.

12:40pm - 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.

12:20pm - The Ministry of Health has announced two new 'high risk' locations of interest in Auckland. 

The locations are: 

  • Headquarters Auckland CBD - Friday, 18 February from 10:10pm to 11:59 pm 

  • Ellice Road Social Lounge Auckland CBD - Friday, 18 February from 10:13pm to 11:15pm 

The ministry asks if you are a close contact to "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". 

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

12:08pm - Greater Wellington has warned protestors against trying to cross the Cook Strait in private vessels saying it's "not for the faint-hearted".

Greater Wellington, Maritime NZ and the Police are on standby after reports were shared online of more private vessels planning to leave Picton with supplies and protestors.

On Monday, a vessel from Picton was pictured delivering protestors and supplies at Wellington's Queens Wharf.

Greater Wellington's Harbourmaster Grant Nalder says his team have been working with a range of partners to ensure anyone attempting to cross the Cook Strait is aware of the inherent dangers and the obligations on them once they enter the Wellington region. 

"We have been working closely with the Police and Maritime NZ to put advice out to any would-be adventurers. Crossing the Strait is not for the faint-hearted - a degree of experience is needed to understand both the dangers that exist and the obligations of operating a vessel in our region," says Grant Nalder. 

Advice from the Harbourmaster and his team on social media includes the Wellington Regional Navigation Safety Bylaws, as well as information on berthage in Wellington, contact details for Marinas, instructions on not leaving boats unattended, avoiding creating hazards for other water users, and understanding the unique features, tides and weather conditions of the Wellington Region. 

Councillor Penny Gaylor, Chair of Greater Wellington's Environment Committee echoed the sentiments of the Harbourmaster. 

"Our region has had to endure significant disruption because of the actions of some protestors and we don't want that spilling, literally or figuratively, into our waters.  We need to continue to ensure our waters remain a place that all people can access, enjoy and use." says Cr Gaylor. 

The advice from the Harbourmaster can be found here:

11:39am - Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says listening to the point of view of the demonstrators outside Parliament is an important step in preventing the protest from dragging on.  

Chief Commissioner Hunt met with a section of demonstrators in an effort to help de-escalate the Parliament protest.

He says that listening to the claims of the protesters is an important contribution to help prevent the protests from dragging across months or turning into further violence, as other COVID-related protests overseas have.

"In such a heated, fraught moment, we have to move from fear, to hope, and that cannot be done without listening and talking," he says.

The meeting included representatives from Voices for Freedom and the Human Rights Commission, police, Freedom and Rights Coalition and independents.

"The job given to the Human Rights Commission, Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, by Parliament is to listen, conciliate, educate and advance human rights and responsibilities for all," Hunt says.

"It's clear that the protesters who I have met with have very real stories of loss and suffering. They feel broken and discarded due to the impact of COVID-19 health measures on their lives.

"These are people who have lost loved ones, who have suffered severe side-effects of vaccination, and lost jobs.

"I have a duty to listen to their concerns to understand how their human rights have been impacted.

"In my discussions, I make it clear that I am not affirming their views and I condemn the outrageous conduct of some protesters. I also acknowledge the harmful impact the protest has had on many in our community."

The conciliation being led by Chief Commissioner Hunt will continue as a multistage process, and involve a range of stakeholders, including mana whenua, the Police, the Commission's chief mediator and the Mayor of Wellington. Hunt has asked the Prime Minister to ensure her government engages in this constructive process.

The Chief Commissioner has extensive experience engaging in difficult conflicts as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, including as an investigator into Guantanamo Bay, as well as the Lebanon/Israel conflict of 2006. 

The Commission recently provided a report on special conditions that vaccine mandates should meet to fulfil human rights requirements.

The Commission has faced an unprecedented increase in complaints and inquiries since the beginning of the traffic light system. It has also been running a campaign, Dial-it-Down, to encourage people to maintain respectful communication with each other online and in person.

11:20am - In Victoria, they have seen a slight rise in COVID cases with 6926 infections in the past 24 hours. 

Victoria Health said there had been 17 coronavirus deaths in the last reporting period, which is up from 14 on Tuesday. 

Hospitalisations have decreased with currently 319 people in hospital, down from 345 on Tuesday, with 22 in ICU and eight on a ventilator.   

There are currently 42,016 active cases in Victoria.

11:15am - Sky Stadium in Wellington has announced that free parking provided to protesters will end at 6am on Thursday. 

Sky Stadium chief executive Shane Harmon said normal parking fees will resume tomorrow, which is $15 per day. 

"We would like to inform you that as of 6am on Thursday 24 February 2022, parking in the Stadium car park will no longer be free to those attending the protest on Parliament grounds," Harmon said in a statement.

"All vehicles parked at Sky Stadium from 6am Thursday 24 February will be required to pay the daily parking fee of $15. 

"Vehicles that have not paid will be issued with an infringement ticket by CarePark for $65. Repeat infringements will result in your vehicle being towed from the car park. 

"All tents and shelters will also need to be packed down and removed from the car park from 6am on Thursday 24 February."

11:07am - Over in Australia, New South Wales has recorded a slight increase in COVID cases with 8931 infections in the past 24 hours. 

The rise in cases comes after NSW announced a big jump in infections on Tuesday. 

NSW Health said there had been six coronavirus deaths in the 24-hour reporting period to 4pm yesterday. 

Hospitalisations have decreased with 1246 people in hospital, down from 1293 on Tuesday with 69 people in ICU.

10:50am - Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told AM he believes there will be "further problems" at the Wellington protest if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet don't engage with the protesters.

Watch the interview here

10:35am - The Government is being accused by ACT of misleading New Zealanders over the country's COVID-19 PCR testing capacity, while the union that represents laboratory workers says some Kiwis' tests aren't being processed due to the overwhelming demand.

On January 25, days after New Zealand detected cases of Omicron in the community, associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall released a statement informing Kiwis that improvements to testing capacity would "see New Zealand well prepared for Omicron".

It asserted that New Zealand's PCR testing capacity had been increased from a maximum of 39,000 tests a day to a baseline of 58,000 tests.

But a union leader says that figure relies on a form of test processing that isn't happening anymore.

Read more here

10:22am - A man who says he witnessed an assault by two protesters on another occupier at Parliament says it shows how the mood has turned nasty at times this week.

Michael - who does not want to be fully identified over safety fears - lives in the CBD and works right next to the cordon.

He said the scary vibe around the grounds at the start of the protest mellowed last week.

But his perception changed on Monday when he was walking past the packed food facilities on Molesworth Street about lunchtime.

He said out of nowhere, he saw two men king-hit and then kick a protester.

"One guy pushed this guy forward and the other guy kicked him in the head - his head was about four feet off the ground when he kicked him, so it was like watching someone kicking a football.

"He fell to the ground and these guys started kicking him.

10am - A prominent lawyer believes the Government is "breaching its obligations" under the Bill of Rights now that New Zealand is dealing with a milder version of the virus - Omicron. 

Lady Deborah Chambers, QC wrote an opinion piece for NZ Herald posing the question, where did our rights go?.

She said in the Herald that "after emergency legislation in response to COVID-19 giving our Government the right to control our freedom of movement is no longer demonstrably justified in removing the fundamental rights to which New Zealanders are entitled". 

"The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 provides in section 18 that everyone lawfully in New Zealand has the right of freedom of movement and residence in New Zealand. It also provides that every New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand and the right to leave New Zealand," she wrote in the Herald. 

"The Act states that it is intended to affirm, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in New Zealand."

Lady Deborah told AM on Wednesday that it was time someone said something about Kiwis' rights to move in and out of the country. 

"I do think lawyers have a constitutional role and one of those roles is to stand up for people against Government action," she said. 

"I got to the point where someone has to say something here. The Bill of Rights, which does guarantee us our freedom of movement, the right to come in and out of the country as New Zealanders is just not entering the discussion. 

"It seems to me that now the facts have changed and we are dealing with a much milder form of this virus and the Government is breaching its obligations under the Bill of Rights in terms of protecting our fundamental rights to freedom of movement and the ability to go in and out of New Zealand."

9:41am - Aucklanders who are heading to a COVID testing site will be given a Rapid Antigen Test (RATs) from Wednesday to deal with the rising demand.

Some people in Auckland and Waikato had been waiting over five days for their test results as Omicron surges around the country. 

The new testing regime for Aucklanders means people with symptoms and asymptomatic close contacts who had a positive RAT test would be deemed a probable case and wouldn’t need to be verified by PCR.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said even though there are "significant" global supply constraints on RATs, New Zealand had enough to get through the outbreak in the coming months. 

He said the new system would also "relieve pressure on the system".

The news comes after APEX Union National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell told AM on Wednesday that many people will not get their test results back, due to the delays at the labs.

"The figures I saw earlier in the week out of one of our Auckland hospitals, there had been thousands of tests that had been waiting for over 48 hours to be processed and we're not going get to them, that's the bottom line. We have reached capacity," she said.

The Ministry of Health stressed the importance of the right people being tested for the right reasons in their 1pm statement on Tuesday.

"Over the last week, a significant number of concerned people who don’t need a test are going to get a test – those are people who don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms and are not a contact of a case," the ministry said.

"People should only get tested if they have cold or flu symptoms, have been identified as a close contact of a case, or have been asked to get tested by a health official."

9:22am - Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told RNZ that it is likely COVID is spreading around the protest.

"There had been COVID cases among police staff. It had not been possible to specifically link those cases to the protest, but staff who had been working on the protest for some days had been affected," Coster said.

"It stands to reason that COVID will be there, and if it's not already, it will be soon, because it's increasing, obviously."

It comes after a police spokesman told Newshub on Thursday that there are positive cases of COVID-19 within police headquarters in Wellington.

"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," a police spokesperson said.

"For privacy reasons and because the situation is changing so quickly, we won't be getting into specifics. We can confirm a small number of our staff based at police national headquarters (PNHQ) have returned positive tests and they are isolating along with their close contacts.

"The positive cases have not impacted key operational functions at PNHQ."

9:05am - ACT Party leader David Seymour says the Government has misled Kiwis on how much testing capacity is available. 

The claim comes after APEX Union National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell told AM on Wednesday that many people will not get their test results back, due to the delays at the labs.

"The figures I saw earlier in the week out of one of our Auckland hospitals, there had been thousands of tests that had been waiting for over 48 hours to be processed and we're not going get to them, that's the bottom line. We have reached capacity," she said.

Here is the full statement from ACT:    

"The Government has misled New Zealanders about its COVID-19 testing capacity and needs to take urgent steps approve more tests," Seymour says.

"The union representing lab workers has said capacity has already been reached and some people won't receive results at all.

"Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told New Zealanders last month that 58,000 tests could be carried out each day with a surge capacity of 77,000- she now needs to explain why we've already reached capacity when daily testing numbers are nowhere near that high.

"Association of Professional and Executive Employees (APEX) national secretary Dr Deborah Powell has gone as far as saying those claims from Government are "appalling."

"This situation was foreseen by ACT. As I wrote in a column on January 14:

"Testing won't keep pace with infections, whether it's nasopharyngeal, saliva, or rapid antigen. The Government's record for testing is about 40,000 a day, reached only a couple of times. If there are 100,000 true cases per day, testing as we know it won't work. Contact tracing lost the scent of Delta in 'hard to reach' communities, so we can write off tracing Omicron right away.

"The rest of the world is scrambling for Rapid Antigen Tests, but at least their governments didn't first ban importing them then approve only four types. We should allow any of the 65 approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Authority to be imported from tomorrow. It should just bury its futile vindictive spat with Rako Science and ask 'how many saliva tests can you do from tomorrow?'"

"This remains as true today as it did over a month ago. The Government needs to automatically approve Rapid Antigen Tests as available in similar jurisdictions and contract companies like Rako science.

"I'm hearing daily from people that their test results have been 'delayed72 hours' one person tested on the 12th February told me this morning they still don't have their result. If they were infected, they'll have recovered now anyway.

"Just this week the Ministry of Health sent 2000 RATs destined for an Auckland High School back to Australia because it hadn't approved them, despite them being approved in Australia and having a higher efficacy rate than it requires.

"It's time for Government to stop misleading us about its testing capacity and be open to other forms of testing and technology. Our hardworking lab workers deserve better and so do all New Zealanders."

9:01am - Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says anti-mandate protesters outside Parliament are enabling violence.

The protesters have been going for more than two weeks and are becoming increasingly violent with three police officers hospitalised after having an unknown stinging substance thrown on them on Tuesday. A man was also arrested after trying to drive a car into police and officers were forced to use shields after having human waste thrown at them. 

Speaking with AM on Wednesday, Coster called for protesters who are trying to be peaceful to leave because they are enabling violence, whether they mean to or not. 

"Yes, we have people who are protesting a legitimate issue but they've created a situation where these behaviours can play out," he said.

"Whilst they might not be responsible for it themselves, the situation is of their making. And the situation, as it sits, is impacting the university, it's impacting public transport so we are looking to them to actually effect change and we are beginning to worry they may be unable to."

8:45am - Small cafe businesses are struggling to achieve the criteria to qualify for the Government's new support package. 

Bowl and Arrow, which is a smoothie bowl cafe that employs 26 staff members over three sites, currently have six staff in isolation with the majority because they are close contacts.

Reid told AM, if their doors closed, they would suffer a huge loss of revenue.  

"What it would do for us at the beginning is we would obviously suffer a huge loss in revenue, obviously we are grateful for the package that has come out but it's actually really hard to achieve those metrics," she said. 

"For two years we have been operating on such low numbers anyway, we haven't had those incredible sales that we had when we first started, so we are performing on low numbers and to be asked to be at a 40 percent loss is impossible, we are already at a huge loss. 

"We are actually only 30 percent down at the moment so we can't even qualify for this package anyway but of course, if all our stores close then we will qualify but that's not the goal here, we don't want to be closing our stores just to qualify to get support. 

"It's frustrating because the Government has given out all these support packages, to begin with, but it's kind of like we are getting dropped at the end of the hat and not getting support and the very last hurdle when we need it most. 

Reid said even though they are in some of New Zealand's biggest malls, people are too scared to come out and shop.

"We are in two of the biggest malls in New Zealand and they are dead, we are not making anywhere near the revenue that we thought we would be," she told AM. 

"People are too scared to come into malls, fair enough, so we have staff standing there and we are blooding and hemorrhaging money day in, day out.

"It;'s a fair bit, it's definitely stressful and it's definitely over 50 percent that we are losing. It's very, very tough and I don't know what the future holds for us if we don't get this extra support. "It's been a waste of the Government's money if they have provided all this initial support but just when we need it most, this is the worst time we are going through right now, we are probably going to have none because we are not hitting that 40 percent target.

Reid is urging Grant Robertson to drop the isolation rules for close contacts, which is having huge issues for staffing their cafes. 

"I think I would say to my mate Grant, we really need these restrictions dropped regarding close contacts because it is just ruining our staffing issues," she said.

"Also the support that you provided could have come a lot sooner. The metrics you provided over that six week period in January when Auckland is all cleared out, so how are we meant to provide good numbers. Why wasn't it done in December when all the Christmas shoppers were around, so you've made it quite tough so we are ready for some extra support."    

7:59am - APEX Union National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell told AM that many people will not get their test results back, due to the delays at the labs.

"The figures I saw earlier in the week out of one of our Auckland hospitals, there had been thousands of tests that had been waiting for over 48 hours to be processed and we're not going get to them, that's the bottom line. We have reached capacity," she said.

"The figures I was looking at on Monday, there were about 4000 over the 48 hours, whether now they have been processed or not I'm sorry I don't know but it's an escalating backlog as more and more tests come in so hence prioritising.

"So look we are prioritising and we are getting the important tests out to people, so if you presented to hospital, you're an essential worker, these are being prioritised but members of the public, I'm afraid the capacity won't allow everyone to just get a test when they want one."

7:52am - New Zealand First leader Winston Peters hopes his visit to Parliament grounds on Tuesday will "encourage the protesters to demand they be heard". 

"It's astonishing that in the 16th day, no one has opened up dialogue from Parliament from any political party, hasn't been to see them and that is unprecedented," Peters told AM on Wednesday.

"You have to remember that 41 years ago there was a 42-day protest there [Parliament grounds] so that's not unprecedented. The reality is if the Prime Minister and her cabinet were prepared to talk to them, I'm sure this would de-escalate real fast but if it doesn't I fear there is going to be further problems than violence."     

Peters defended his visit to the protest on the same day three officers were taken to hospital after an unknown substance was thrown on them.

"A few extremist actions against the massive majority who are law-abiding and peaceful protesters and for some they have lost 30-years of their careers, their jobs, there everything, is that to be the most prominent issue," he said. 

"You will always get the odd nut case but the reality is, from what I saw, the people that are being gaslit by the media and dear I say it the politicians are simply not that crowd." 

7:28am - Police Commissioner Andrew Coster won’t rule out forcibly moving anti-mandate protesters.

"No, I will never rule that out because in the end, we need to be able to take decisions day by day," he told AM. 

"We remain of the view that de-escalation is the most appropriate thing to do here but a city cannot keep operating as it is for a long time.

"We are looking for ground to be given back so university can resume, so public transport can resume normally and businesses can function normally."

7:22am - The peak of COVID-19 in the Omicron outbreak in Auckland and Northland could reach 4000 daily cases if transmission is low, or 9000 if it is not new modelling shows.

The modelling by Counties Manukau DHB population health director Gary Jackson predicts about 400 cases in hospital in a low transmission scenario.

Last month, Dr Jackson's modelling showed a peak of 1800 cases in the Northern region, with about 190 of these in hospital.

There were 1802 new community cases in Auckland yesterday, and 36 in Northland. There were 128 patients in Auckland's hospitals.

Read the full story here.

6:52am - Wellington Free Ambulance has confirmed they were present on Parliament grounds at 6:15am and transported one person in a serious condition to Wellington Hospital.

6:45am - National Party leader Christopher Luxon has denied claims he's sympathetic to the protesters outside Parliament in Wellington after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accused him of dancing 'dangerously close to sympathy' for protesters.

Luxon told AM on Wednesday that the comments by Ardern were "disingenuous" and that National does not support the "despicable" actions of protesters.

"Absolutely not, National's position hasn't changed from day one, we do not, have not, will not endorse the actions of the protesters," he said.

"The Prime Minister is being disingenuous, from my perspective and I've been very strong from the beginning, very supportive with other parliamentarians on this, the protesters have been abusing, disrespecting other Wellingtonians. 

"If you are down there and see the treatment businesses are getting it is unacceptable and likewise with the police we are doing a fine job, yesterday was absolutely despicable and we have no support for that and we have been very clear about that all the way through." 

Luxon said the comments he made in his speech on Monday were about the "deep-seeded frustration in New Zealand" Kiwis feels. 

"What I will say to you is it's a bit disingenuous of the Prime Minister to say particularly because all I was challenging was the fact that there is deep-seeded frustration in New Zealand and we don't have great clarity around the COVID plan and just because you challenge the Prime Minister, doesn't mean you should be slatted for being on one side of this or the other side of it," he told AM. 

Luxon said Ardern did a good job in laying out a plan in 2020 but since then it's been a "shambles". 

"People don't accept the protest, that behaviour is totally unacceptable but outside of that and I have travelled up and down it [New Zealand], it's very clear people are immensely frustrated, law-abiding New Zealanders have gone off and got triple vaccinated, followed all the rules and are really, really confused and lost about where we are. 

"You heard it just now with the person trying to navigate the Red traffic light setting. I was in Queenstown with tourism businesses that are literally going to the wall daily at the moment and have no clarity about when we will get tourists back in the country. Businesses I was with yesterday who can't get Rapid Antigen tests, people that have to come home because their kids are a close contact and can't get a rapid antigen test. 

"We've been talking about these things for a long time but the pathways for these things isn't really clearly spelled out. 

"The Prime Minister actually did a good job in 2020 laying it out and being a very clever communicator but since then it has been shambles and people are frustrated and they are lost."

6:16am - A person has been taken away on a stretcher by ambulance staff from Parliament grounds on Wednesday morning after suffering a medical event. 

Wellington Free Ambulance staff were escorted to the protest site by police as the demonstration stretches into a 16th day.

6:10am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak and the Parliament protest for Wednesday, February 23.