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blog march 3


Latest: Covid-19 hospitalisations top 500

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 3, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on

Top stories

Have you considered joining The Spinoff Members? Our coverage of the events in Wellington and the omicron outbreak would not be possible without your support. Find out more here.

blog march 3

Latest: Covid-19 hospitalisations top 500

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for March 3, I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can reach me on

Top stories

Have you considered joining The Spinoff Members? Our coverage of the events in Wellington and the omicron outbreak would not be possible without your support. Find out more here.

Mar 3 2022

100 arrested in connection to parliament riot; 40 police injured as ‘significant investigation phase’ launched

A fire burns in a rubbish skip outside the law school near parliament. (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

One hundred people have now been arrested in connection with the violent events at parliament yesterday as police attempted to put an end to the 23-day occupation.

Police assistant commissioner Richard Chambers said in addition to 89 arrests made yesterday – 78 for trespass or obstruction, one for threatening to cause grievous bodily harm and one for arson – 11 people have been arrested today for rioting, theft and assault.

Of the more than 500 police staff involved in yesterday’s operation, 40 were injured, ranging from “bumps, bruises and lacerations to bone fractures, head injuries and chest injuries”, said Chambers during a media conference this afternoon. The eight who were admitted to hospital have all been discharged.

A “significant investigation phase” has now started, said Chambers, with police “working hard to bring together footage, with support from the public and other sources of information, to help us hold people accountable for their criminal behaviour yesterday”. The investigation will “take as long as it needs to take”, he said.

He said he was confident that police’s response was proportionate to bring protesters under control.

Chambers said police were aware that a number of people involved in yesterday’s events remained in the Wellington region and “we’re keeping a very close eye on that”. He urged those who lived outside of the region but remained in Wellington to go home.

A fire burns in a rubbish skip outside the law school near parliament yesterday (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

PM tours forecourt of parliament as clean-up under way

Photo: Justin Giovannetti

A sense of normality is returning to parliament as police continue to patrol the grounds and crews armed with high-pressure water hoses have begun removing the graffiti that built up over a three-week occupation. A number of areas of the parliament lawn where fires broke out remain an active crime scene and fire crews remain on alert behind the Beehive. Heavy construction equipment is now being used to remove broken tents and camping gear from the rest of the grounds. At the edge of the forecourt, a badly burnt LPG bottle is visible after rioters threw it into the flames. Hanging over the area is a pungent smell from the torn-up grass and hay that protesters had spread around.

Photo: Justin Giovannetti

With question time cancelled for the day, the prime minister, speaker and finance minister toured the damaged areas with police. Jacinda Ardern promised that the area would be fully restored. She was interested in the fate of the playground and its slide, which was on fire yesterday. While the slide is still standing, it’s in the middle of a crime scene and it’s difficult to evaluate the damage from a distance.

Heavy concrete blocks continue to close most of the roads around parliament and following yesterday’s scenes of violence, people have been staying away from local shops. One café operator near parliament told me that this was fewest people they’d had in for a coffee in the two years he’d run the place, worse than under tight Covid-19 rules.

Jacinda Ardern surveys the damage, with media in tow (Photo: Justin Giovannetti)

New awards to highlight difficulty accessing ‘official information’

The group tasked with keeping an eye on journalists’ rights has announced the creation of the NOIAs – the “no information awards” – in order to highlight the ongoing problem reporters have accessing official information.

Created by the Media Freedom Committee, of which The Spinoff is a part, the awards will be a “light-hearted take on a serious subject”.

Committee chair Miriyana Alexander said members frequently express their concern about the way journalists are being stymied when asking for information they’re entitled to in their role. “We’ve heard assurances about accountability from politicians but that message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the people tasked with sharing information,” she said.

Common complaints include one agency transferring an official information request to another at the end of the statutory 20-working-day response period, dragging responses out for another month or supplying heavily redacted responses. (As an aside, I have experienced all of these issues many times).

Categories in the inaugural NOIAs include the Terrier Award, for the most tenacious journalist, the All Black Award, for the most redacted OIA response and the If You Didn’t Laugh Award, for the funniest reason for a response being rejected.

“We do want to acknowledge that there are lots of hard-working people doing their best to help journalists too,” said Alexander. “That’s why we’re including a Little Ray Of Sunshine award for the individual who has gone above and beyond in their commitment to transparency.”

The winners will receive a certificate and the journalists who nominate them a $100 book voucher.

A note about The Spinoff Members

With omicron cases increasing and the recent protest fuelled by the spread of misinformation, fact-based and level-headed journalism is more important than ever.

The generous support of our members powers all of The Spinoff’s journalism, including live updates on the ground at the Wellington protest, the award-winning collaborations between Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles, and richly reported feature writing. It’s what you need to know, without the sensationalism – and member donations keep it free to all, without a paywall. Tautoko mai, join The Spinoff Members today.

Leighton Baker among those arrested after parliament riot, says daughter

Leighton Baker (Supplied)

Leighton Baker, one of the more prominent protesters involved in the occupation of parliament, was among those arrested yesterday.

According to his daughter, Chantelle Baker, who is also a prominent protester and helped spread the incorrect claim that police started fires on parliament grounds, Leighton Baker has been released on bail today.

“He is under bail conditions which include not being allowed to speak out against the Covid Response Bill,” she claimed. “So I highly, highly recommend every single individual reads that bill and understands the implications.”

Writing for The Spinoff during the early days of the protest, Toby Manhire called Chantelle Baker the “Instagram-ready face of the protest”. He said her Facebook live videos presented “a relentlessly upbeat, ebullient picture of the gathering”.

‘A form of protest I did not recognise’: Political leaders condemn protesters

Photo: Getty Images

Politicians have unified to condemn the actions of those who rioted in Wellington yesterday, during a special debate this afternoon.

Speaking first, prime minister Jacinda Ardern thanked emergency services, parliamentary security and all those who helped restore the peace. “You put your personal safety aside in order to look out for others,” said Ardern. To Wellingtonians, Ardern said she hoped their sense of safety and resilience had been restored.

Ardern said she has watched numerous protests arrive at parliament over the years and has spoken at several. However: “The day this one arrived it was clear it was different,” said Ardern. “The rhetoric that came from the speakers swung between benign to threatening.”

She added: “Many media who walked the grounds were either abused or in some cases chased away. It was a form of protest I did not recognise. And I found it hard to reconcile it with the reality of what all New Zealanders had faced in this pandemic, and yet quietly got on with it.”

Speaking next, National leader Christopher Luxon joined in support, saying he  “wholeheartedly” condemned the protesters. “This was not peaceful protest, it was thuggery,” he said of yesterday’s actions.

A review of how yesterday was able to unfold should be undertaken, said Luxon. National would support this and cooperate with it. Luxon said that this review should question whether the actions of house speaker Trevor Mallard exacerbated what happened.

Watch more speeches here

Watch: Question time canned as political leaders set to debate riot

The typical afternoon political sport of question time will not take place today. Instead, political leaders will gather for a debate on the events of yesterday.

In a note from the prime minister’s office, it was confirmed Jacinda Ardern would lead the debate from 2pm.

Meanwhile, Ardern has just finished a brief press conference in which she defended her decision not to engage with the protest before it turned ugly yesterday. She said it was clear from the beginning that those gathered on parliament’s lawn did not want to engage in healthy debate and that this was a different kind of protest to that which New Zealand had seen in the past.

Watch the debate via parliament TV here.

Covid-19 update: Hospitalisations rise to 503, more than 23,000 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

The number of Covid-related hospitalisations has risen to 503, with seven people now in intensive care.

There were 23,183 new community cases today, bumping the number of active Covid cases up to more than 146,000. About 85% of today’s new cases were confirmed via rapid antigen tests and self-reported to the Ministry of Health.

A person who had tested positive for Covid-19 while in a Bay of Plenty rest home has died of an unrelated medical condition while receiving palliative care.

Speaking at the ministry, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said that from February 21-27, about 1% of New Zealand’s population were active cases. 54% of today’s new cases are under 30, with just 14% over 50.

The opposite pattern is seen with those in hospital, said Bloomfield. Of the 345 people in hospital in the northern region, 21% are under 30, while around 60% are over 50. The hospitalisation rate is 3.5 per 1,000 active cases, said Bloomfield, but hospitalisations lag by about a week to 10 days behind case numbers. “We’re expecting both the numbers and the rate to increase over the next couple of weeks,” he added.

In Auckland, about one in 10 people in hospital had Covid, including in the emergency department.

The hospitalisation rate for people who have had a booster is about a fifth of those who haven’t. About 28% of eligible people still haven’t had their booster.

Bloomfield said the peak of the outbreak was expected over the next week or two, but the lag in hospitalisations would see those peak toward the end of March.

An announcement on rolling out the booster dose for those under 18 was expected in the next week or two, said Bloomfield. “I’ve had advice that the balance of risk and benefits is there for 16 and 17-year-olds, but they don’t think there is sufficient evidence at this point to routinely offer a booster to 12 to 15-year-olds unless they are immunocompromised,” he said. “We’re turning that into advice for ministers then working out the operational follow-up of how to put that into action.”

He said this advice was “quite consistent with what other countries are doing”.

Watch: Bloomfield to reveal latest Covid numbers

Ashley Bloomfield is hosting today’s 1pm Covid briefing, where he will outline the latest hospitalisation and case numbers. He’ll also face questions from media.

Tune in below:

ICYMI: Launch date announced for pair of new free-to-air channels

There was quite a lot going on yesterday, so here’s a story you may have missed

Two new free-to-air television channels will launch in just a few weeks time.

Eden and Rush, both operated by Discovery (the owners of Three), will go to air on March 21. Eden is teased as New Zealand’s “fourth mass market general-entertainment channel” and will offer “an escape from life’s routine”. Content is set to include drama series like Finding Alice along with reality offering like Dancing on Ice and the The Chase USA (Yes, more of The Chase).

The channel will also host a new Newshub bulletin: Newshub live at 8pm. It’ll be hosted by veteran broadcaster Rebecca Wright.

Meanwhile, Rush is described as “New Zealand’s home of high adventure, high octane and high adrenaline reality”. It’s line-up includes Man vs Wild and Deadliest Catch. Personally,

March 21 is also the launch date for Mediaworks’ new radio network Today FM. Mediaworks previously owned Three.

It’s now even easier to access rapid antigen tests

An antigen test (rapid test device) showing a negative result (Photo Illustration: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rapid antigen tests can now be ordered directly from a new Ministry of Health “RAT requester” website.

It’s for symptomatic people or household contacts who wish to access a free rapid test. RATs have been gradually rolled out to Covid testing centres since we moved into omicron phase three, but as of this week can also be purchased at chemists, supermarkets and even The Warehouse.

The new website is one a range of ways health officials say they are making tests more readily available. “On top of the 15 million that arrived last week, 2.6 million RATs arrived on Tuesday, followed by a delivery of 5.1 million RATs on Wednesday,” said Jo Pugh, acting group manager of Covid-19 testing and supply. “We have a good supply of RATs to meet demand during phase three of our omicron response.”

There are now 146 collection sites, 106 testing centres and 21 providers nationwide. Add in the retailers and Pugh said there are now over 500 locations. “The ability to place an order online ensures that the process is smoother when people go to collect them,” said Pugh. “It also means that the whole whānau don’t need to queue up at the testing centre when one person in the household gets sick, because you’ll be able to collect RATs for everyone in your household,” says Jo Pugh.

 Currently, free rapid tests are only available via collection. Pugh said the ministry is exploring the possibility of allowing delivery.

For more, visit the new rapid antigen test requester site here

Auckland Domain protesters agree to leave after visit from police

Photo: Matt Grace

After a visit from police this morning, a group of anti-mandate protesters have agreed to leave Auckland Domain.

According to Stuff, 25 police and 20 council officers were on site today. “This morning, those remaining on site have agreed to leave, Auckland Council officers, with police support, are now working with them to remove the remaining camping equipment,” Auckland Council’s Craig Hobbs told Stuff.

Earlier, The Spinoff live updates reported that police presence at the domain had increased today. In a statement, a police spokesperson confirmed that officers had been sent to the park to “support the Auckland Council with its enforcement of bylaw breach notices”.
Protesters at Auckland Domain (Image / supplied)

Police were monitoring the situation to ensure public safety. “At this stage, no issues have been reported,” said police.

The group of around 20 protesters first gathered at the domain on Saturday after a march across Auckland Harbour Bridge. The decision to vacate the grounds after just five days on site is in stark contrast to yesterday’s scenes at parliament, where protesters violently clashed with police after more than three weeks camped up.

Protesters remain at Auckland Domain, but police presence increases

Protesters at Auckland Domain (Image / supplied)

The police presence at Auckland Domain has increased this morning, as a group of anti-mandate protesters remain camped on the grounds.

About 20 or so protesters are still on the site, including one seen holding a “we stand with Wellington” sign. The small camp started on Saturday – the same day hundreds of protesters stalled Auckland traffic and marched across the harbour bridge.

Latest reports suggest about 20 police officers and council staff are now at the domain today. A handful of those were seen approaching the protest camp earlier this morning.

Photo: Matt Grace

The Spinoff has approached police for further information.

Victoria University confirms attempted arson at law school during riot

A fire burns in a rubbish skip outside the law school near parliament. (Photo: Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Victoria University has confirmed protesters attempted to set fire to Old Government Buildings, more commonly known as the university’s law school.

The building is the largest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere and its front lawn had been home to dozens of protesters over the past three weeks.

In an email sent to staff, university vice chancellor Grant Guilford praised the “heroic actions” of security staff who thwarted the planned arson. “Staff noticed a fire being lit and were able to quickly douse the flames before they got established and threatened the building,” he said. “Fire and Emergency have a protection plan in place to ensure this precious heritage building is protected.”

(Photo by Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Other university buildings did sustain minor damage during last night’s riot, with a glass door at nearby Rutherford House smashed by protesters and a skip bin set on fire. “The protestors were not able to gain entry and the fire was quickly extinguished,” said Guilford.

Parliament grounds closed as clean-up begins

Image / Livestream

Parliament grounds will be closed “until further notice” following yesterday’s riot and the three week occupation that preceded it.

In a statement, speaker of the house Trevor Mallard said a recovery plan for the grounds had been developed. It includes working with mana whenua and coordinating offers of assistance from volunteer groups.

“Due to assessments of the grounds’ condition that must take place before that work can begin… I ask that all members of the public stay away till advised others,” said the statement.

Mallard thanked police, parliamentary security and other staff for their “continued efforts to keep everyone at parliament and the surrounding areas safe”.

Wellington riot: 87 arrested, seven police officers spend night in hospital

The end of Lambton Quay towards the end of the operation ending the parliamentary occupation. Photo by Dave Lintott/AFP via Getty Images

The number of arrests is likely to continue climbing, said police, but 87 people have so far been arrested in connection with yesterday’s events outside parliament.

What started as a stand-off between protesters and police eventually morphed into a riot, with fires being lit, bricks and other projectiles being thrown, and police forced to use rubber bullets to control the crowd.

The arrests were for “a range of offences”, said a police statement last night, including trespass, possession of restricted weapons and wilful damage.

A “small number” of protesters were still present around parliament overnight, until about 8pm, near the Victoria University Pipitea campus. Officers remained “highly visible” in the area.

Seven police staff required overnight hospital treatment. This was due to injuries ranging from minor to “serious but non-life threatening”, some sustained from objects thrown at them by protesters.

“These included bricks and paving stones taken from the nearby streets, rocks, traffic cones, poles and wood from pallets,” said police. “Staff were also showered with paint, petrol and water from a high-powered fire hose.”

Police commissioner Andrew Coster today said footage from the riot will now be looked at before further arrests are made. In the meantime, the clean-up of parliament grounds can begin.