New Zealand has deployed more police officers to stem a fourth day of anti-vaccine demonstrations outside the Parliament in the capital, Wellington. Dozens have been arrested since the protests over COVID-19 vaccine mandates began.
Barricades are keeping demonstrators away from the New Zealand Parliament, known as the Beehive because of its architecture. For days, a swarm of protesters has gathered to oppose COVID-19 vaccination mandates on a range of occupations, including health workers and teachers.
There have been clashes with the police, despite pleas for calm from other demonstrators. A senior police commander said the occupation of the grounds outside the Parliament was “unprecedented.”
Academics have also been monitoring a growing number of threats made online and at the rally to New Zealand’s political leaders.
Chris Wilson is a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Auckland.
“I can’t remember a period in which politicians, [the] prime minister and other senior politicians have had threats of lynchings, of hangings, of executions, that they would be arrested," said Wilson. "One threat that I saw that they would be taken out and executed the next morning. I can’t remember a period where politicians have had that kind of intimidation and threats against them ever in my lifetime. You know, it must take a toll on politicians, and it certainly does seem to have become rife where more and more people seem to be feeling comfortable about saying such things which just a few years ago you almost never heard.”
New Zealand, with 5 million people, has detected 18,000 coronavirus cases and had 53 deaths since the pandemic began. About 94% of eligible people are vaccinated.
Its international borders remain closed to most foreign travelers, although a staged reopening is scheduled to start this month.
The protesters in Wellington say vaccine mandates are an infringement on personal liberties.
They have used their cars and trucks to block streets near Parliament, set up tents, and said they have no plans to leave.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged them to “move on.”