Wellington Mayor Andy Foster angry as COVID-19 policy protest continues


"How long's that going to last?" Wellington's mayor is asking as the Covid-19 policy protest nears the end of its second week outside Parliament.

Speaking near the protest today, Wellington mayor Andy Foster declined to say whether he approved of the current police strategy, but stressed a "wait-it-out" approach would not work.

"That's not a very attractive proposition," he said. "How long's that going to last? I don't like that at all."

Foster said, ultimately, the government and police had the power and responsibility to resolve the situation.

"I have communicated with them that we want our streets back, we want our public places back, and we want Wellingtonians to be able to go about their normal business without fear of intimidation or harassment."

He said he had specifically implored the police not to let the protest expand beyond its current footprint over the weekend.

The demonstration is now on its 13th day - and the camp is firmly entrenched despite more rain overnight.

Protesters - many wearing jackets or ponchos - have been queuing by a food stall this morning for breakfast and coffee.

The ground is sodden, but mats and hay have been spread around to prevent too much muddiness.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told TVNZ's Q&A on Sunday the protest "shouldn't have got to this" and he had "no idea" how it would end.

He said the protest was "unlawful and unreasonable", but the level of confrontation which would have been required to shut it down would not have been acceptable to New Zealanders.

"This is a really unpleasant, difficult situation, and I'm concerned people are being affected in this way."

Coster reiterated the police would continue talks with the protest organisers to try de-escalate the situation.

"The tactics have to be appropriate for all involved," Coster said. "I think there is a good opportunity to de-escalate."

Some residents of the area around Parliament are worried about leaving their houses while protesters are on the streets outside.

A Hill St resident who asked not to be named said protesters had tried to remove his housemate's mask, and other residents had been verbally abused for wearing one.

He said the protest appeared to be anti-everything Covid, not just anti-mandate.

"If it was a more nuanced protest around mandates, you'd see people wearing masks," he said.

"The reality is there's nobody wearing masks there, so it's a complete denial of the risk of Covid whatsoever, that's really concerning. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if people were wearing masks."

Police estimate 800 vehicles remain illegally parked in and around Parliament.

The registration details of vehicles are being taken by officers with a view to enforcement action later.

Police said they had expected the number of protesters to grow over the weekend and were determined to encourage the arrivals to use proper parking spaces and not block more roads.

The protest which began on 8 February, yesterday drew a crowd of more than 1000 people.

Two cars parked illegally on Thorndon Quay were towed yesterday, while 15 others were moved voluntarily by protesters after officers spoke to them.

The 450 parking spaces at Sky Stadium made available to the crowd are now full.

In a statement issued yesterday, police said they continued to have a large presence in the central city, including a team ready to respond to incidents outside the Parliamentary precinct.

"We continue to maintain a highly visible, reassurance presence on site, and staff are engaging with the public and protestors to provide advice and, where necessary, take enforcement action," the statement said.

The statement said police also had a presence at smaller protests in Christchurch and Picton on Saturday.

Mallard asks officials to look into fencing Parliament

Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard has asked officials to look into the cost and practicality of fencing the complex to prevent a repeat of the occupation.

Mallard said he asked Parliamentary Service to begin the work on Tuesday - but expected it would take months for a plan to be drawn up.

If approved, Cabinet would then have to sign off on the funding.

The grounds are currently surrounded by low walls that allow free access to pedestrians.

Protesters remove shower at war memorial

Anti-mandate protestors have removed a suspected makeshift toilet or shower next to the Wellington Cenotaph.

The veterans charity group, No Duff, criticised protestors after photos emerged of the structure and graffiti, chalk and placards littering the war memorial.

Co-chair Lars Millar said it was shocking to see the sacred site had been defaced.

Millar said while the mess has now been cleaned up, the group was concerned that the cenotaph could be defaced again as more protesters arrive.

Disruption continues

Wellington schools located near the protest at Parliament will keep using security guards to escort children to and from their grounds.

St Mary's College and Sacred Heart Cathedral School are in Guildford Terrace, off Hill St, which runs along the northern side of Parliament Buildings.

St Mary's principal Andrew Murray said the Ministry of Education had helped provide guards as the disruption continues.

"It's just being proactive, making sure the girls are feeling safe," he said.

"And the feedback from my community has been overwhelming support in terms of the way we're looking after students in that particular space."

Three guards are stationed at the school in the morning, and one walks with students to and from the railway station.

Murray said staff were also strategically placed between the schools and the station.

A hotel sector group said the protest was just another hit against already-struggling accommodation businesses in Wellington.

Hotel Council Aotearoa strategic director James Doolan said that for hotels it's been nearly two years of border closures, no international visitors, and uncertainty.

"What you're seeing in Wellington is hotels are already operating on skeleton staff, they already have low occupancy so that's 20 or 30 percent full, and a protest doesn't help," he said.

"It's like being kicked after you're already knocked out, it's not really the main problem."

He said he wouldn't be surprised if some hotels close to Parliament weren't taking bookings at all, because of the protest, but said he hadn't had feedback from hotels about that yet.