Blasting "Baby Shark" and turning on the sprinklers didn't dislodge a group of protesters against COVID-19 vaccine requirements who have been camped outside New Zealand's Parliament building for two weeks, copying the tactics from Canadian "Freedom Convoy" blockades. So, as in Canada, police have started moving in to push back the well-organized protests. And on Tuesday, one protester nearly drove into a line of officers, police in Wellington said.
About 250 officers arrived at dawn to move concrete barriers and tighten the cordon around the protest encampment, The Associated Press reports. Hundreds of cars and trucks are blocking the streets of Wellington, the capital, and police have used the barriers to allow protesters to drive away but not enter the area. In video posted online, a white car is seen driving the wrong way toward a group of officers, then stopping short as police scramble out of the way.
Police said the officers, who jumped into the car and pulled out the driver, were lucky to have escaped unharmed. Three people were arrested, one for driving in a dangerous manner and two for obstructing police. Some other protesters sprayed an unknown substance at officers who are recovering in the hospital, Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters. On Monday, police said, some protesters flung feces at officers.
"Our focus remains on opening the roads up to Wellingtonians and doing our absolute best to restore peaceful protest," Chambers said. "The behavior of a certain group within the protest community is absolutely disgraceful." Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "what's happening in Wellington is wrong" and that it's time for the protesters to go home.
The protesters are seeking an end to some or all of New Zealand's COVID-19 mitigation measures, including requirements that certain workers get vaccinated and vaccine passes to get into many restaurants and shops. The country is experiencing its first big COVID-19 outbreak, with a new high of 2,800 cases reported Tuesday. Just one COVID-19 patient was hospitalized in the ICU, though, and New Zealand has reported a pandemic total of 56 coronavirus deaths, AP reports. About 77 percent of New Zealand's 5 million residents are vaccinated.