Politics

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Attacks on police during Parliament protests ‘absolutely disgraceful’ – Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described the behaviour of protesters and attacks on police in Wellington as “disgraceful”.

Ardern is in Auckland speaking to media after visits in the city.

“There are a group that are increasingly acting out in a violent way towards police officers who are only doing their job,” Ardern said.

Ardern said now was not the time to pick apart an operation but the time to let the police see through the operation.

She said in the aftermath, she was sure we would want to make sure everything that could’ve been done was done.

“I think we can all agree, it’s disgraceful.”

To anyone who has said this is a peaceful protest, they could surely see now that in some quarters, it was not, Ardern said.

All parties in parliament have said we would not engage with those who were breaking the law in the occupation in Wellington at the moment, Ardern said.

Ardern said the leader of the opposition Christopher Luxon’s comments yesterday were “dangerously close to sympathy” towards what is happening in Wellington.

When it is difficult for people to just do their jobs in Wellington, we should all denounce that, Ardern said.

Ardern said they had been talking to iwi and so had police.

“What is happening in Wellington is not New Zealand. To see that difference in view being expressed [at the protest] does not make us a divided society.”

They were a group that had gone “too far”, Ardern said, and needed to leave.

Ardern told media this afternoon it was extremely exciting New Zealand would begin to welcome home eligible Kiwis in Australia from this Sunday at 11.59pm.

Ardern said those returning home would get a welcome pack that include rapid antigen tests and extra information.

“This is the first step in welcoming those travellers home.”

Ardern said it was expected the self isolation period required for travellers returning home would change again.

“We expect thousands of travellers to come through our gates,” Ardern said.

“We receive rolling advice all the time…we do know self isolation has a knock on for all sorts of industries and [for people’s] planning,” Ardern said, acknowledging the importance of giving people advanced warning of changes.

Ardern said if New Zealand was overrun by too many cases of Covid-19 and we were seeding more in from the border, tourists would not have the same experience in New Zealand.

On the lengthy lines at testing stations, Ardern said the most important message she could share that a large portion of people coming through were worried – but not necessarily in need a test.

One of the major issues is was people who were worried coming to be tested, Ardern said.

Ardern said they were looking at a move to phase 3 “fairly shortly”.

Regarding the situation between Ukraine and Russia, Ardern said everyone wanted to see a de-escalation and to see diplomacy work.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has issued a statement this afternoon responding to Putin’s decree, slamming it as a “calculated” act designed to create a pretext for invasion.

“New Zealand has consistently voiced our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” she said.

“There is no basis under international law for the recognition of the self-proclaimed, ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’.

“Recognition by Russia further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict and is a violation of international law.

“We are concerned that this is a calculated act by President Putin to create a pretext for invasion, which would be a clear act of aggression.

“We again call for urgent diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution.”

There were 2846 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the community today and 146 people in hospital with the virus. Those numbers mean phase 3 of the Omicron response is likely to kick in by the end of the week or early next week.

That will coincide with the first step in reopening the borders: from Monday New Zealanders coming from Australia will be able to return and do home isolation rather than go into an MIQ facility.

As the Omicron outbreak increases, the Government and Ministry of Health have come under pressure over delays in testing and the delivery of rapid antigen tests to businesses and critical workplaces where they are needed.

Earlier today the Government announced $140m would go to help Māori and Pasifika providers deal with the outbreak in their communities – at phases 2 and 3, most people are expected to be recovering and cared for in their homes.

The trigger point for phase 3 is around 5000 cases a day and cases are currently doubling every three to four days.

Yesterday Ardern said she expected vaccine mandates and the use of vaccine passes would ease once the Omicron peak passed – that peak was expected to be in mid to late March before cases rapidly declined and then stabilised at a lower level.

Ardern will also be asked about the protests, after further tense encounters between police and protesters at Parliament at 6am today. That saw police, many carrying shields, move some concrete barriers 50-100m further in at two of the roadblocks around Parliament.

The encounter resulted in a man being arrested after driving his car toward a line of police, forcing police to move aside. The car stopped just short of the protesters’ line.

Some officers were also reportedly sprayed with a “stinging substance”.

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