National MP Maureen Pugh has deleted a social media post in which she thanked the Convoy 2022 protest movement camped outside Parliament.
In the now-deleted Facebook post, Pugh talked about a struggling businesswoman who had received support from the public. According to reported sightings of the post, Pugh wrote: "Good on her for finding her mojo again thanks to the support of Nelson and Convoy 2022".
Pugh confirmed she had written and deleted the post, telling Newshub in a statement on Thursday: "I made the post a few days ago intending to support a local business doing it tough."
Pugh said she "hadn't initially appreciated the anti-vaccination message being spread by Convoy 2022, so I edited and ultimately deleted the post once they arrived and I saw some of their signs and messaging".
'Convoy 2022' is the banner under which protesters rallying against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other coronavirus measures like vaccine passports have been making their stand at Parliament.
It appears to be inspired by The Freedom Convoy, an ongoing protest in Ottawa, Canada against COVID-19 vaccine requirements for truckers to re-enter the country by land, introduced by Canadian authorities on January 15.
For the third day in a row, Convoy 2022 protesters have been camped out on the front lawn outside Parliament and on Thursday police arrested 120 of them after House Speaker Trevor Mallard authorised the closure of the Parliamentary precinct to the public.
Pugh said she was unaware of the protest's anti-vaccination sentiment.
"I do not support the message and actions being taken by Convoy 2022. People shouldn't be breaking rules, getting aggressive or impinging on other people's freedoms.
"I've seen plenty of protests outside Parliament - but this is the first time I've seen security need to escort staff and MPs, including myself, safely out of the precinct."
National leader Christopher Luxon was not at Parliament on Thursday to respond, but COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said the party did not support anti-vaccination sentiment.
"I understand Maureen's deleted that post," he told reporters.
"I haven't actually seen it but all I've heard is that there was a post that went up briefly this morning or yesterday and it's been deleted and we don't support the protesters outside - we've made that very clear."
Pugh is not the first National MP to appear to support such protests on social media. Harete Hipango deleted a post last month showing her attendance at another anti-vaccine mandate and lockdown protest.
Hipango deleted the post after a discussion with Luxon, who at the time said her actions did not "align with those of the National Party".
"Both have apologised for that and we don't support the protesters," Bishop said.
"The leader and I and [deputy leader] Nicola [Willis] have made that very clear. These guys are fundamentally anti-vaccination and we're a pro-vaccination party."
Bishop said neither Pugh nor Hipango were anti-vaccination.
"No, both of them are supportive of vaccination, both of them have made that very clear."
ACT leader David Seymour says it's time to get rid of vaccine mandates.
"We said if we got 90 percent vaccinated we'd get our freedom back but it seems that the political control that comes from COVID is unending," Seymour told AM on Thursday.
"We're going to need to start asking ourselves: 'What is the pathway out, how does Omicron change the game?' And it would seem that continuing to have these mandates, they may have already passed their use-by date given that we have very high vaccination rates."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says vaccine mandates won't be around forever.
"I've seen other issues that have caused equal amounts of passion from members of the public so people feeling deeply about an issue is by no means new," she said on Thursday of the protests.
"But I think what we need to keep remembering is that this is not representative of where the vast majority of New Zealanders are. The vast majority have been vaccinated, understand why we've had to have these rules for the period that we have, and can see the results: it has resulted in saving lives."
While the number of Omicron cases isn't as high as anticipated in New Zealand - 204 community cases were registered on Wednesday and 306 on Thursday - testing rates have been lower than expected and scanning numbers have plummeted.
However, testing rates picked up on Thursday, with 27,425 compared to 15,972 the day before.
More than 1.7 million New Zealanders have now had a booster vaccination. Boosters - a third dose of the vaccine - lower your chances of getting very sick and being hospitalised, according to the Ministry of Health.