blog feb 23

Live UpdatesFeb 23 2022

Parliament protest live: At least two protesters test positive

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 23, this week coming to you from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a question or want to say hi? Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

blog feb 23

Parliament protest live: At least two protesters test positive

Hello and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 23, this week coming to you from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Have a question or want to say hi? Reach me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The latest

Feb 23 2022

At least two parliament protesters test positive for Covid

At least two of the protesters at parliament have tested positive for Covid-19, reports 1 News.

“Due to privacy concerns, we are not in a position to confirm whether or not they were arrested by police,” a ministry spokesperson said, according to the report. “Those who have tested positive have been instructed to isolate themselves.”

Earlier today, police commissioner Andrew Coster said a number of police officers working at the protest had contracted Covid-19. While the infections hadn’t been directly linked to the protesters, it “stands to reason” that the virus is circulating at the occupation, now in its 16th day, he said.

Move to omicron phase three expected soon

The government is poised to move us into the next phase of our omicron response.

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins and director general of health Ashley Bloomfield will front a press conference regarding our omicron plan tomorrow afternoon.

While a shift to phase three won’t see much change in our day-to-day lives, it will mean a shift in how we test for Covid-19 and how contacts of potential cases are identified. The government’s Covid-19 website said that PCR testing will be limited to priority groups, with wider use of rapid antigen testing. That change appears to have happened already in Auckland, with everyone who gets tested now provided with a rapid test.

In addition, phase three will mean people are expected to self-notify possible close contacts. They will only be traced and required to isolate if they are a high-risk contact.

Read more here.

‘We never flung any poop’ sign becomes makeshift window display

Live from Wellington:

The now famous “we never flung any poop” sign brandished by a protester outside parliament yesterday has found a new home: attached to the side of Victoria University’s Rutherford House.

‘We never flung any poop’ (Images: RNZ & Stewart Sowman-Lund)

The sign was created in reaction to claims that human waste was thrown at police officers by protesters on both Monday and Tuesday morning. A statement from police later said officers used riot shields in order to stop themselves being hit with faeces and warned that prison time was a possible penalty for anyone who deliberately tried to infect someone with disease.

Some protesters have maintained that the claims were not true.

‘Mandates must go by March 1’ – protest speaker

Live from Wellington:

A protester from the Brian Tamaki-backed Freedom and Rights Coalition has called for mandates to be dropped in a week’s time.

Speaking from the main protest stage in front of the Beehive this afternoon, the Christchurch-based speaker said that getting the mandates scrapped was the “first battle”.

From there, the battle became about removing the government. “We’ve got to be in this for the long haul,” he said. “The government needs to go.”

The protester said that votes would not be enough to see the government leave office, instead saying “it’s other means that are going to get them out”. He did not specify what these alternative means could be.

The Freedom and Rights Coalition has been one of the more prominent protest groups in the Wellington occupation. Tamaki himself has not been able to travel to Wellington due to bail conditions prohibiting him from participating in events contrary to Covid-19 restrictions.

Protesters pile up rubbish on outskirts of occupation

Live from Wellington:

A makeshift landfill has started up on the outskirts of the parliament protest area.

On the corner of Kate Sheppard Place, near the Wellington bus terminal, a large pile of black rubbish bags has been building up for the past few days.

The Spinoff asked a nearby police officer to confirm whether the rubbish was from the protest or due to rubbish trucks being unable to service nearby apartment buildings. He said it was from the occupation and said that rubbish trucks have been able to access the street, but have not been collecting waste from the rally.

Rubbish piling up near the protest (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Members of the protest security team have been seen emptying the existing rubbish bins on parliament grounds, replacing the rubbish bags in order to keep up with demand from the hundreds who remain on site.

Entering the RAT race: What it’s like to get a rapid antigen test 

Having developed a sore throat that I eventually came to accept was not psychosomatic (I dreamt about test positivity rates last night – that’s how deep into this pandemic I am right now), I headed off for a test this morning. 

As of today, RATs are the primary test being used in Tāmaki Makaurau. Sadly, you still have to queue up for them, and testing centres are still slammed. I hit up the walk-in testing centre in the Victoria Street carpark and queued for just over an hour (the downside of a walk-in place is you have to stand up, and be in close-ish proximity to other potentially sick people, but the upside is you get to soak up a lovely summery Auckland morning). 

An official walked down the line every few minutes, holding a sign that pointed out a change in policy that kicked in today  – if you’ve had a positive RAT test, you don’t need to confirm it with a PCR. That got rid of a few relieved Covid-positive people from the line, which was also a relief for the rest of us.

When I got to the front, I was asked for my details and why I was there, then if I was happy to take a rapid antigen test away to do at home. The man handed me a box and some instructions, and said there was also a video online. He said something about uploading my results, but I didn’t quite catch the details and kind of thought he meant only if it was positive. 

Photo: Alice Neville

When I got home, I discovered this RAT business was more complicated than I expected, and my confusion was heightened by the instructions not matching the type of test I’d been given. So I switched to the instructions inside the box. Basically, you swab each nostril with the same swab (you’ve got to stick it up quite far, not as far as the traditional nose probe, but a good couple of centimetres), then put your swab in a little vial of liquid and swirl it around, then squeeze a bit of that liquid out onto the test itself. 

A line should appear next to C pretty quickly – that’s the control line. If one appears next to T, the test line, after about 15 minutes, you’ve got the ’rona. Mine didn’t, so I’m omicron-free. 

When you first put the liquid on, and after 15 minutes – no omi here

At the bottom of the official instructions, which I’d cast aside as they weren’t relevant to the test I’d been given, it tells you to upload your test result to My Covid Record. I didn’t realise I was supposed to do this for a couple of hours, I’ll be honest, and I’m sure many people simply won’t. The process itself was fairly simple, but it appears to be targeted at critical workers doing RATs for the close contact exemption scheme, which might confuse a few people.

Minor grumbles aside though, getting a result in 15 minutes is an enormous improvement on isolating nervously while waiting days for a text, and it’s a more pleasant experience than the PCR test. Would certainly RAT again.

Screenshot from My Covid Record

Cash rate rises for third consecutive time

The official cash rate was risen 0.25 percentage points, up to 1%. It’s the third consecutive rise after about 18 months with no movement.

The Reserve Bank said it remained appropriate to continue reducing monetary stimulus so as to “maintain price stability” and “support maximum sustainable employment”.

“The level of global economic activity is generating rising inflation pressures, exacerbated by ongoing supply disruptions,” said the central bank. “The pace of global economic growth has slowed however, due to the general elevated uncertainty created by the persistent impacts of Covid-19, and clear signals that monetary conditions will tighten over the course of 2022.”

Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr (Photos: Getty Images)

The bank signalled that further increases were likely over time given the medium-term outlook for growth and employment and the upside risks to inflation.

National’s finance spokesperson Simon Bridges said the OCR rise was the only option, but blamed the government for refusing to rein in “big spending plans”.

Protest numbers drop as some illegally parked vehicles leave

Live from Wellington:

The number of vehicles parked illegally around parliament has dropped overnight.

Police say “a number of people and vehicles” have left the protest area, with motorists on Molesworth Street voluntarily moving their vehicles.

One example is outside a side exit to the Beehive. Until today, it had been blocked by a car and a tent but the area is now empty and has been blocked off by road cones.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

The weather in Wellington today is windy and noticeably colder than yesterday. A number of tents around the protest zone had been blown over during the night, and I was nearly hit by a pair of flying deck chairs on the corner of Bowen Street. It’s possible that, on day 16 of the occupation, protesters are less committed to staying through typical Wellington weather.

There remains a “visible presence” of officers at parliament today. “Movements to reduce the cordon will continue in the coming days as our focus remains on returning the city back to normal as quickly as possible,” said a police spokesperson.

“Constructive discussions with protesters are ongoing and police continue to allow the service of both food supplies and portaloos at the protest, although vehicles are not permitted through any of the police-controlled cordons to enter the area.”

No politician has been outside to address the protesters. Speaking to media from the West Coast, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I stand firmly on the view that we should not be emboldening people who are acting illegally, confronting our police with everything from human waste to reportedly chemicals in response to them simply doing their job.”

Sky Stadium parking offer to end

The offer of free parking at Sky Stadium, taken up by only a handful of protesters, will end tonight. Police said this was a joint decision and cars remaining in the carpark tomorrow will be charged. Police and stadium staff will be onsite to help manage the smooth exit of vehicles.

Covid-19 update: 179 in hospital; daily cases top 3,000

There are now 179 people in hospital with Covid-19, an increase from yesterday. One person remains in intensive care.

Today there are 3,297 new community cases of Covid-19, the highest we have seen across the pandemic and the first time that daily case numbers have topped 3,000.

Of those, 1,729 are in Auckland with the remainder distributed nationwide, including 455 new cases in the Southern DHB area.

Cases have today been confirmed in Northland (40), Waikato (297), Bay of Plenty (157), Lakes (54), Hawke’s Bay (18), MidCentral (56), Whanganui (5), Taranaki (30), Tairāwhiti (16), Wairarapa (16), Capital and Coast (123), Hutt Valley (28), Nelson Marlborough (85), Canterbury (176), South Canterbury (7), and on the West Coast (3).


The Ministry of Health noted that the number of cases reported for the Southern DHB has been lower than the true number because a large number of people have tested positive who have National Health Numbers linked to a home address outside of the Southern DHB region. These cases have been included in other regions’ case counts.

A large number of people who returned a positive result in the Southern region yesterday who have addresses outside of the region are included in Southern’s case count today after work by health officials to reclassify the cases. “This explains why there is a larger increase in Southern’s cases reported today compared with previous days,” said the ministry. “It is important to note that a case undercount anywhere in the country does not significantly impact our assessment of the outbreak, public health decision-making or public health advice.”

On testing, the Ministry of Health said that the positivity rate is now 12.2% – meaning roughly one in eight seeking a test for Covid-19 is testing positive. There were 27,550 tests administered in the past 24 hours.

There were 25,367 booster doses administered yesterday.

For more: Visit The Spinoff Covid Tracker page here

A subtle change to how we report the daily Covid numbers

As the omicron outbreak progresses and our health response moves to focusing on vulnerable populations and making sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, the number of new cases recorded each day becomes less important. Yes, the daily totals are far bigger than what we’ve been used to, and they’re still an important gauge of the outbreak. But most of those cases will be able to manage their symptoms at home and make a full recovery without needing medical treatment. 

For that reason, you might notice a change in how The Spinoff reports the daily numbers in our live updates. In our headlines, we’re now leading with hospitalisations and ICU numbers, followed by new case numbers. It’s a small but important shift that indicates how our health system is coping with the outbreak. Yesterday, there were 143 people in hospital with Covid-19, and one in ICU.

Currently, the Ministry of Health isn’t differentiating between those people in hospital because of Covid-19 and those who are in hospital for other reasons, but they happen to have the virus. We’ll keep encouraging the ministry to provide this breakdown, so watch this space. 

NZ’s Russian ambassador to meet with government over Ukraine tensions

As the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine escalates, Russia’s ambassador to New Zealand has been called to meet with government representatives.

Foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta said the ambassador would hear New Zealand’s “strong opposition” to actions taken by Russia in recent days. “We repeat our call for Russia to act consistently with its international obligations, and return to diplomatic negotiations as a pathway to resolve this conflict,” she said.

“We have consistently expressed our strong support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis to find a peaceful solution.”

New Zealand was prepared to take further action should an invasion take place, said Mahuta. These measures span the range of options available to New Zealand, including travel bans, controlled export bans and diplomatic measures.

“Russia’s actions could have far-reaching and serious humanitarian, security and economic implications for the region, and globally,” the minister said. “We are very clear: any act of Russian aggression in Ukraine poses a direct threat to global peace and security, and would represent a further violation of international law.”

National MP on leave after breaking both arms, fracturing spine and ribs

National MP Tim van de Molen will be taking leave from parliament after an accident in which he broke both his arms and fractured his spine and ribs.

In a statement, the Waikato MP said he sustained the injuries after falling from a platform. “Since arriving at Waikato Hospital, I have undergone several surgeries to address my injuries; the medical team expect I will be released from hospital next week,” he said.  

“I’d like to thank St. John’s staff for their prompt response and professionalism which led to me receiving a very high standard of care from the outset.”

Gerry Brownlee and Barbara Kuriger will temporarily take up van de Molen’s portfolios. National leader Christopher Luxon said he wished van de Molen well in his recovery.

National MP Tim van de Molen (Image / National)

New testing requirement sees Auckland move closer to omicron ‘phase three’

Rising demand for Covid-19 tests has led to wider use of rapid antigen tests.

Everyone seeking a test in Auckland from today will be given a rapid test instead of being required to have the usual PCR test.

The rise of omicron, and the subsequent increase in demand for testing, has meant people have been waiting up to five days for a test result. A rapid test, though less accurate, can provide a result within 15 minutes.

According to Stuff, the proliferation of rapid tests in Auckland will mean that even people with symptoms, or close contacts, who receive a positive RAT result will be considered a probable case and won’t need to have this verified with a PCR.

This puts us effectively in “phase three” of the omicron response, where PCR testing will focused on priority groups. An official move to phase three will likely be announced in the coming days.

Spotted The Spinoff on your commute?

We’ve just launched our first-ever brand marketing campaign, celebrating the site’s refresh and shining a very big, very bright spotlight on some of our favourite work of the last little while. To learn about what we’re up to, check out Campaign Brief’s piece on the launch.

And if you’re keen to chat commercial opportunities, get in touch with our commercial director .

Winston Peters: Protesters have been ‘misrepresented and gaslighted’

Former deputy prime minister Winston Peters has defended his decision to visit the Wellington occupation yesterday and speak with protesters.

Peters has become a vocal advocate for scrapping vaccination mandates in recent weeks and received a warm welcome from the crowd yesterday afternoon.

Speaking to The Spinoff live updates, Peters said the protesters had been “misrepresented and gaslighted” by the media. “When I met them, as I expected, the mass majority were law abiding New Zealand citizens who have sadly lost their careers and their livelihoods,” he said.

Asked whether the presence of fringe views within the protest made it harder to take the rally seriously, Peters said no. “That should not contaminate those genuine, sincere people who are just asking to be heard.”

Winston Peters speaking to protesters inside a tent at parliament (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Peters was maskless during his appearance at the protest, despite concerns that Covid-19 could be spreading through the crowd. He said this was the right thing to do. “The very masks we’re using are seriously deficient. We’ve got to get far better masks… otherwise they’re just placebos,” Peters said. “I don’t wish to go along misleading the public as to the adequacy of political response when we all know so much of it has been deficient.”

It was the job of myself and other journalists to be investigating why people can’t access higher quality masks, said Peters, rather than running “tackle for an inadequate government”. A quick Google search revealed medical masks can be bought in packs at Countdown, while a number of Chemist Warehouse stores in Auckland have N95 masks in stock.

Despite calls from protest organisers, Peters did not speak to the crowd. He said he only ever planned on listening to “the protesters’ side of things.” He believed the government should already have opened up a dialogue with those outside parliament. “Discussion is far better than war,” he said.

Winston Peters at parliament on Feb 22 (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

I told Peters that the protesters I had spoken to would not leave even if the government engaged with them – unless vaccination mandates were dropped. Peters said the “very structure for the mandates” was now collapsing. “We don’t have 20,000+ cases of Covid right now. We’ve got over 100 in hospital and only one in ICU – that’s an extraordinarily low number. But the very structure to keep the mandates going is not there anymore. People are not checking in when they go to various places, and as for the testing, they haven’t even got the utility to do things properly.”

Some online have suggested that Peters’ decision to engage with the protest amounted to political opportunism. The former deputy PM hit back: “That’s what the odd troll has said and that troll should go back in their hole.”

Defence force unlikely to be needed at parliament – police commissioner

The police commissioner has dampened down speculation the defence force might be needed at parliament.

We’re into day 16 of the Wellington occupation, with no signs that the protesters are planning on leaving the city.

Andrew Coster told Newstalk ZB that bringing in troops would be a really extreme situation. “I don’t think any of us want to see soldiers on our streets,” he said. “That’s unlikely to land in a good place for us as a country. Police is well placed to deal with this.”

Officers had made “really good progress” in recent days, said Coster. “We’ve got a good border around the protest.” He said that while police had been speaking with a group of protest leaders, they had been struggling to effect change within the protest itself. “We remain of the view that de-escalation is the only strategy that will see us come out of this in good shape.”

Over on RNZ, Coster said that he was keeping an eye on similar protests overseas and how they had escalated. “There’s a bigger picture here, which is a range of protests happening around the country. At this stage they are peaceful and they’re not blocking critical infrastructure, but we need to appreciate that the overseas experience has been a lot worse than ours, so it’s a delicate situation that needs to a measured response.”

The commissioner could not rule out whether acid was the substance thrown at officers yesterday, but he said they were doing well in hospital.

Meanwhile, it has now been confirmed that some police staff working at the protest have tested positive for Covid-19. Coster said while it hasn’t been linked to the protesters, it “stands to reason” that Covid is now spreading among those outside parliament.

‘Increasingly volatile’: Wellington school working from home due to protest

Wellington Girls’ College has asked all its students to work from home until at least next Monday due to the nearby protest at parliament.

In a statement shared to the college’s Facebook page, principal Julia Davidson said staff and students had been “continually abused” and due to wearing masks. The incident yesterday, in which a car attempted to drive into a crowd of police officers, took place at a time when many staff were arriving at the college. “The situation is increasingly volatile and we have real concerns about how we could care for the students were something to happen during the school day,” said Davidson.

Moreover, school buses can no longer make it near the school and protesters at the nearby Thorndon shops have been making students and staff “feel really uncomfortable”.

The decision to work from home will be reevaluated over the weekend, said Davidson. “Obviously we can’t stay at home until the protest ends, but I’d like to hope the Police or MOE or WCC will be able to provide people who can maintain a safe route for our students at the start and end of the day,” she said.

Three observations from reporting on the ground in Wellington

For today’s edition of The Bulletin, Justin Giovannetti asked me to write up three observations from my first day on the ground in Wellington:

  • This is not an anti-mandate protest. While many of those in attendance at the Wellington occupation will continue to proclaim that they are there to speak out against mandates, it is clear from walking around the tents and stalls that it is about more than that. Most protest signs spread misinformation about the vaccine, while others simply target a myriad of other unrelated issues: three waters, significant natural areas, religious freedom and more.
  • It is (almost) a peaceful protest. I’ll be honest, I felt perfectly safe while wandering around among the protesters. I wore a mask and spoke to numerous people and only once was I told to ‘Take it off bro’. That being said, many of the signs that remain do not create a safe feeling. Misogyny directed at the prime minister is rife. Conspiracy theories about her partner are prevalent. Hatred directed at the media is commonplace. If the protesters are peaceful, maybe they should consider making their propaganda match?
  • The protest is really big. Like, really. Having reported on this protest from Auckland for the past two weeks, I thought I appreciated quite how big it was. In person, however, it’s significantly larger. The scale is almost impossible to describe. The streets around parliament are a bit like the first days of a zombie apocalypse, with empty cars parked haphazardly. Bus stations have become makeshift homes. It takes three times as long to walk anywhere. This is a big protest and, by the looks of things, it’s here to stay.

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