Jacinda Ardern 'not choosing to focus on two people' after duo heckle her in Christchurch over COVID-19 vaccine mandates

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."

Two protesters heckled Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a visit to Christchurch.
Two protesters heckled Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a visit to Christchurch. Photo credit: Newshub

Ardern, when asked if she was reading the room well enough, said 75 percent of New Zealanders have said they agree with the Government's restrictions as Omicron cases increase.

It appears she was referring to a recent Horizon Research snap poll showing 30 percent support for scrapping vaccine mandates.

"That is giving a very strong sense of where the majority of New Zealanders sit on the management of the pandemic and I think they would be extraordinarily disappointed if the Government was swayed by a much smaller minority who happen to be behaving illegally on the forecourt of Parliament," Ardern said. 

"We are seeing a decrease in numbers, the police are reporting that themselves, and their continuing work is to regain the ground that has previously been occupied and is obstructing the movement of Wellingtonians."

Police "continue to be concerned at the level of aggressive behaviour from protestors in Wellington", an update on Thursday said, regarding the weekslong anti-mandate demonstration. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods were shouted at by protesters during a visit to Christchurch.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods were shouted at by protesters during a visit to Christchurch. Photo credit: Newshub

Police said at about 9pm on Wednesday night, protesters moved bollards at the intersection on Lambton Quay and Bowen St, letting about 20 vehicles into the protest area. Protesters at Hill St armed themselves with makeshift shields made of plywood and rope.

While police have seen a "significant decrease in the number of vehicles and people" at the protest area, the number of protesters fluctuates between 150 to 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. There around 35 vehicles still at Sky Stadium.

The occupation area is now a location of interest after the Ministry of Health confirmed two positive cases among the camp. Corrections has also confirmed two sex offenders attended. 

The demonstrators want vaccine mandates scrapped. The Freedoms and Rights Coalition - one of the five groups representing the protest - has wartned that if mandates aren't lifted by March 1, there will be "mass rolling non-compliance actions" across the country. 

Ardern signalled earlier this week the Government's intention to roll back vaccine mandates and passports after Omicron has peaked in roughly three to six weeks.

Police say the Parliament protest is slowly thinning down.
Police say the Parliament protest is slowly thinning down. Photo credit: Getty Images

"One of the reasons we haven't put dates on when we will likely see that easing of restrictions is because some countires have plateaued once they've peaked and stayed there for some time before coming down," Ardern said in Christchurch. 

"What we want to be assured of when we start to ease those restrictions - and we all want to do that - is that our hospitalisations have normalised, that our health system is coping, that any effect of reducing those restrictions won't put us in a position again where we see our health system under strain."

Her comments came as COVID-19 Resonse Minister Chris Hipkins announced that the third and final phase of the Government's Omicron response would come into effect on Friday after the number of cases from Wednesday topped 5000. Only the "highest risk contacts" will need to isolate from now on. 

"When we look at the peak, there's estimates that it could be anywhere between three to six weeks for New Zealand before we reach that point. We'd want to be well clear of that before we start making those decisions around easing," Ardern said.  

"But the point is, ultimately, we are not far away from seeing a change in our settings. But the next period is really important. 

"I don't think you'd have any public health expert saying that now, when we're in the middle of thousands of cases a day, is the time to let down our guard."