Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a message for the vaccinated in the wake of hundreds of protesters marching against vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions: "What we saw today wasn't reflective of you."
Security was tight at Parliament on Tuesday as hundreds marched from Wellington's Civic Square in a protest organised by the Freedoms & Rights Coalition, founded by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki.
"In Wellington, hundreds of people gathered at Civic Square this morning and headed to Parliament," police said in a statement. "Actions on Parliament grounds were largely peaceful, and no arrests were made today."
The protest started off orderly. Several speakers condemned the Government's COVID-19 response, voicing opposition to lockdowns and vaccine mandates. It soon turned heated when protesters squared off with police who stood guard on Parliament's steps.
"Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, when last I checked this was a democratic nation," a protester could be heard telling the crowd, accusing Ardern of violating the Bill of Rights. The crowd could be heard booing.
Ardern told reporters on her way into Parliament she had no intention of going to see the protesters, and had nothing to say to them. But she did acknowledge their right to protest.
"We provide them with the provision to use microphones," she laughed.
"What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders so actually, my message would be to them, and it would be to say thank you - thank you for being vaccinated, thank you for doing what it takes to look after one another. What we saw today wasn't reflective of you and of New Zealand."
Ardern is aware of anti-vaxx sentiment. Last week her press conference in Northland was cut short after a man continuously disrupted her, with claims about the vaccine not working. The following day, Ardern was forced to cancel two clinic visits in Whanganui and Hunterville due to protests.
"I do run my own social media so of course I get a slice of that, but it's very clear that's not indicative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders," Ardern said.
"We're at over 89 percent of eligible New Zealanders having had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and I think they know and appreciate that we're on a road to be able to open up more, to having a bit more of that normality back. Yes, it's been a tough journey, but I think they can see that what we've done has been on behalf of everyone."
The protesters warned that if their concerns aren't addressed by Friday, they would "create gridlock" across the country.
"My job is to focus on our forward plan and we are moving forward. As we see those vaccine rates rise, that gives us the ability to continue to transition," Ardern said.
"You'll see that tomorrow from Wednesday we see retail reopen in Auckland because of where we're at with our vaccine rates there.
"Our view is that we'll be in a position very soon to move into the COVID Protection Framework where everything essentially reopens. We are progressing with moving forward. Obviously what others choose to do while we roll out that plan, is a matter for them."
Ardern denied mandating vaccinations for about 40 percent of the workforce led to anti-Government sentiment expressed by the protesters.
"No, I think relative to other countries, we have been very careful and considered. We haven't seen vaccine mandates nearly as much as what you've seen in other overseas jurisdictions," she said.
"Parliament has seen protests in its time and it is a place where people are able to freely protest and we value that about our democracy. That does not mean that what we saw today was in any way representative of the vast majority of New Zealanders."
National leader Judith Collins said protesters should be free to express their views.
"As long as it's peaceful I support people's right to protest. But I think we're also seeing quite a lot of anti-vaccination protest but also I think quite a lot of anti-Government protest
"I do think that as long as they're peaceful in their protest, it's always about the right to protest, isn't it?"
Collins said she also supports vaccine mandates for certain workforces.
"We've said before there are some occupations where we can see from a health and safety risk assessment point of view that it makes sense, and that would be like border facing workers, healthcare workers."
Ardern will visit Auckland on Wednesday. The city moves to alert level 3, step 2 at midnight, meaning retail and public venues like museums can reopen, and outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people will be permitted from limitless bubbles.
Ardern is able to visit Auckland now that House Speaker Trevor Mallard has removed the requirement for MPs returning to Wellington to self-isolate for five days before going back to Parliament.
"The thing that was limiting me previously was very much the rules of the environment that I was working in day-to-day here at Parliament and it would have meant a five-day stand-down, so as soon as that was lifted, that felt like an opportunity where I was able to do both - get to Auckland, talk to business representatives, be able to see some of the work our frontline health workers are doing, and still be able to be here to front you [the media] and to front Parliament," Ardern said.
"It will be a chance for me to see things for myself. I have been staying in touch with business leaders and representatives. I am on regular calls with our health workers. But it is something to see for yourself as well.
"When I am visiting with some of our business representatives, we will be doing that at a site where I'll be able to talk to the workforce. I'll also look for some other opportunities within the rules to other workers who have been operating at level 3."