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blog feb 24


Latest: 205 in hospital with Covid-19; daily cases top 6,000

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 24, this week coming to you from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on

The latest

  • It’s day 17 of the parliament occupation. The Spinoff’s live updates are on the ground in Wellington bringing you coverage of the protest as it happens.
  • There are 205 people in hospital with Covid-19. There are 6,137 new community cases.
  • At least two of the protesters have tested positive for Covid-19. The protest has now been listed as a location of interest.
  • The country will move into phase three of the omicron response at 11.59pm tonight.
  • Rapid antigen tests are now the primary Covid test being used in Tāmaki Makaurau.
blog feb 24

Latest: 205 in hospital with Covid-19; daily cases top 6,000

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for February 24, this week coming to you from Wellington. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. Reach me on

The latest

  • It’s day 17 of the parliament occupation. The Spinoff’s live updates are on the ground in Wellington bringing you coverage of the protest as it happens.
  • There are 205 people in hospital with Covid-19. There are 6,137 new community cases.
  • At least two of the protesters have tested positive for Covid-19. The protest has now been listed as a location of interest.
  • The country will move into phase three of the omicron response at 11.59pm tonight.
  • Rapid antigen tests are now the primary Covid test being used in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Feb 24 2022

NZ condemns Ukraine invasion, calls on Russia to withdraw

Fleeing Ukrainians arrive by train in Przemysl, Poland, near Ukraine’s western border, on February 28 2022 (Photo: Omar Marques/Getty Images)

New Zealand has joined the international community in condemning the advance of Russian military personnel and equipment into Ukraine, which foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta says “represents a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

“Russia’s actions are a flagrant breach of fundamental international rules; the use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law,” said Mahuta in a statement.

“We join the international community in calling on Russia to cease military operations in Ukraine, and immediately and permanently withdraw, to ensure all possible steps are taken to protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law, and return to diplomatic negotiations to de-escalate this conflict.

“We remain in close contact with partners on the evolving situation, including on appropriate measures being considered by the international community,” said Mahuta.

Residents leaving Kyiv after Russia announced a special military operation in eastern Ukraine this morning (Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Roads around parliament start to clear, but the tents remain

The core protesters remain (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Live from Wellington:

While the number of illegally parked vehicles around the Beehive has continued to steadily drop over the past few days, the core group of protesters on parliament’s lawn appears to have remained the same.

Police say there are now around 300 vehicles, with about as many people still occupying the grounds. That’s a significant drop when compared with the 1,000 or so people outside parliament over the weekend.

Many of those spoken to by The Spinoff live updates today considered themselves part of the core protest and said they would remain at the so-called “freedom village” until they got what they wanted.

For Winona, who is collecting personal letters from protesters that she plans to send to the ninth floor, that will be until the entire Covid-19 Response Act is dumped. Referencing a comment made by the prime minister at the start of the pandemic about the spread of misinformation on social media, Winona said, “I liked Jacinda until she said she was the ‘single source of truth’. I found that terrifying.”

Winona said she believed Covid-19 was real but was unfazed by its now confirmed presence within the camp. She was suspicious of PCR testing and the number of people who tested positive without displaying symptoms.

The core protesters remain (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Nathan, a protester who has camped up on the lawn in front of Victoria University’s law school, said he just wanted dialogue between the government and the occupiers. He believed many of the protesters would pack up and go if the government engaged with them. “It’s been two-and-a-half weeks and they won’t even speak to us,” he said of the government. “We just want a dialogue.” Nathan defended the occupation, and his decision to live outside Victoria University, saying while it was an inconvenience for Wellingtonians, it was justified. “Many people here have lost their jobs, their homes, their families,” he said.

“We’re on a bullet train to tyranny.”

Protesters and police avoid clash as barricade moves forward

From behind police lines (Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

Live from Wellington:

Protesters and police have avoided a clash this afternoon, with both sides peacefully holding the line as the barricade of concrete bollards was moved forward.

The perimeter of the protest closed by about 20 metres on Lambton Quay shortly after 3pm this afternoon. A police officer repeatedly drove a forklift up and down Bowen Street, carrying concrete blocks one at a time, while fellow officers ran alongside.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Protesters spoken to by The Spinoff live updates made it clear they were determined to remain peaceful so that the “mainstream media” did not spread “lies” about their behaviour. After one protester was heard screaming at a police officer, another said: “that’s just what the media want us to do”.

Of the police action, one protester described it as “a pathetic show by weak individuals”. They called it proof that our democracy had been eroded and we now lived in a police state. “Instead of using diplomatic means they’re using brute force.”

From behind police lines (Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

After later being identified as a reporter by a man who was live streaming from near the barricade, The Spinoff was repeatedly accused of spreading mistruths about the events in Wellington and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Explosions heard in Kyiv as Russia announces military operations in Ukraine

Ukrainians take part in military training for civilians as part of the Don’t Panic! Prepare! campaign, amid threat of Russian invasion. (Photo: Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller)

Russian president Vladimir Putin announced earlier today that he had authorised “special military operations” in the east of Ukraine. Only minutes later, before dawn in the country, blasts were heard in capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

There are reports of artillery fire coming from within Russia as troops cross the border into Ukraine. US president Joe Biden put out a message calling the invasion an “unprovoked and unjustified” attack on the country. Earlier this week, Russia recognised two separatist pro-Russian regions in far eastern Ukraine and said that it would send in “peacekeepers” to protect the break-away regions. There was a clear sense of shock in the first reports out of Kyiv as the country’s president had downplayed warnings of an invasion until hours before it began. 

“The invasion has begun,” a Ukrainian interior ministry official told CNN, confirming that Russian missile strikes had hit the capital of Kyiv.

The US and EU have unveiled a number of far-reaching economic sanctions against Russia this week. It’s likely that the most punishing sanctions package ever, aimed at cutting the Russian economy off from the rest of the world, could be implemented in response to the invasion.

Police in riot gear on the move in Wellington

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

The police are once again on the move and preparing for action at the Wellington protest.

Our live updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund is on the ground and says protesters formed a line, linking arms and chanting “love and peace” as about 100 police officers in riot gear line the road outside the cenotaph, with another 100 or so behind. The police line is about 20 metres in front of the concrete blocks that were adjusted yesterday afternoon. It appears the protest area is being tightened further.

Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund

The forklift used yesterday to move the concrete is back in action. “Everyone is acting peacefully and then these dickheads turn up in shields just for one bollard,” said one protester, watching on. Leighton Baker could be seen on the protest frontline. Within minutes, the “peace and love” chant was being continued by only a small group of people as the forklift got to work. The protesters then switched to singing ‘Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi’ and the national anthem.

A large truck behind parliament is bringing in a half dozen more concrete blocks, as protesters bring in more flags and signs.

“I don’t feel guilty for blocking a road,” said another protester. “I was locked up for four months in Auckland. This is where we have to be: parliament.”

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Covid-19 update: Hospitalisations rise to 205, over 6,000 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

Covid-related hospitalisations have risen to 205, while there are 6,137 new community cases of Covid-19.

There are now two people with Covid-19 in intensive care, an increase of one from yesterday.

The country’s Covid death toll has risen by one – a patient at Middlemore Hospital. No further detail has been provided.

The Ministry of Health’s latest reporting includes both positive results from PCR tests and rapid antigen tests. “The omicron public health response during phase two and three operates on more devolved model to ensure health resources are focused on those who need it most,” said a spokesperson. “It is very important to the overall response that people self-report positive results for RATs, so we understand the size of the outbreak.”

Based on overseas experiences, the ministry said it had been expecting the true number of community cases to be higher than the cases reported each day and “this has been factored into our omicron planning”.

At the border, just eight new cases were reported overnight.

Just under 30,000 PCR tests were taken yesterday for a positivity rate of 10.9%.

On the vaccine front, there were 24,632 booster doses administered yesterday and, overall, around 68.2% of the eligible population has now received a booster dose.

Breakdown of new cases by PCR and RAT:

  • Location of latest PCR positive cases: Northland (56), Auckland (1,979), Waikato (314), Bay of Plenty (116), Lakes (75), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (69), Whanganui (13), Taranaki (30), Tairāwhiti (26), Wairarapa (11), Capital and Coast (120), Hutt Valley (68), Nelson Marlborough (112), Canterbury (194), South Canterbury (3), Southern (305), West Coast (4)
  • Location of latest RAT positive cases: Northland (24), Auckland (1,900), Waikato (163), Bay of Plenty (75), Lakes (16), Hawke’s Bay (30), MidCentral (8), Whanganui (4), Taranaki (4), Tairāwhiti (0), Wairarapa (4), Capital and Coast (44), Hutt Valley (5), Nelson Marlborough (11), Canterbury (43), South Canterbury (3), Southern (290), West Coast (0).

More vehicles within protest area than actual protesters – police

Police take over an intersection leading to Parliament on the ninth day of demonstrations against Covid-19 restrictions in Wellington on February 16, 2022, inspired by a similar demonstration in Canada. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP) (Photo by MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

There are more vehicles within the Wellington protest area than actual protesters.

Police have reported a “significant decrease” in the number of vehicles and people at the protest area at parliament. “The number of protesters fluctuates between 150-300 at different times of the day,” said a police spokesperson. “About 300 vehicles remained inside the cordoned area overnight, down significantly from last weekend.”

About 20 vehicles made it within the cordon last night after protesters managed to move concrete bollards at the intersection on Lambton Quay and Bowen Street.

Meanwhile, a group of 10 to 15 protesters were verbally trespassed after entering Pipitea Marae and demanding police and Māori wardens vacate immediately.

Protesters unconcerned by Covid-19 cases within the occupation

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

Live from Wellington:

There’s little concern among protesters in Wellington despite confirmation of Covid-19 cases within the crowd.

The protest has been listed as a “close contact” location of interest for two days, following “at least” two confirmed cases reported yesterday. Around five police officers have also tested positive.

The Spinoff live updates has spoken to a handful of protesters this morning, with none worried about potentially catching Covid-19 from within the camp. All believed the virus was real and could cause harm, but there was suspicion around the growing number of case numbers.

“I haven’t seen anyone who’s been sick here,” said one protester.

One man said he was young and healthy and that if he caught the virus it would be just like any other cold. “Absolutely” Covid-19 could be dangerous for “people over 50”, he said, but he felt he would be fine if he tested positive.

Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund

A pair of women, including one who said she had been a midwife for over 20 years, expressed concern around the validity of Covid testing. They said case numbers were no longer important and we should only be looking at hospitalisations from Covid-19.

Supervised rapid antigen testing rolls out at Auckland GPs

Rapid antigen tests (Image: Tina Tiller)

In advance of the move to phase three at midnight tonight, rapid antigen tests (RATs) are progressively rolling out to general practices and urgent care clinics in Auckland today, according to the Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre.

RATs became the primary test at the 17 community testing centres in Tāmaki Makaurau yesterday, when around 14,000 were distributed. But queues have been very long and some testing centres have run out of the tests.

While testing centres give RATs to people to take home and self-administer and self-report their result online, GPs and urgent care clinics will offer supervised testing – meaning a health practitioner will do it for you and record the result.

GPs have been providing around 60% of metro Auckland’s PCR testing, said NRHCC. “The shift to supervised RATs is expected to significantly reduce pressure on PCR laboratories as well as provide a quicker and easier process for people.”

Only people who have symptoms or are close contacts need to be tested.

Protest officially listed as ‘close contact’ location of interest

Protesters from the parliament occupation (Photo: Birgit Krippner/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

It’s official: the protest at parliament has been listed as a “close contact” location of interest.

That means anyone who attended the rally over the past weekend, roughly between the hours of 11am and midnight, has been asked to self-isolate for seven days. They’ve also been asked to get tested on day five after the exposure and monitor symptoms for 10 days.

It was reported yesterday that “at least” two attendees at the protest had tested positive for Covid-19. A handful of on duty police officers have also caught the virus.

Reports of confirmed cases have caused little concern among those The Spinoff has talked to on the ground outside parliament this week. One protester expressed concern about false positives, while another claimed they were young and therefore unlikely to need hospital treatment.

Omicron phase three to begin tonight; more than 5,000 cases today

Health minister Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield at the health select committee (Robert Kitchin – Pool/Getty Images)

The country will move into phase three of the omicron response from 11.59pm tonight, triggered in part by an expected bump of over 5,000 new community cases overnight.

Speaking at parliament, Covid-19 response minister said the number of cases “rising sharply” should mean the decision to shift phases will be no surprise. Total hospitalisations are also set to top 200 today, with official numbers to be provided at 1pm.

“With daily case numbers in the thousands and forecast to rise sharply during the next few weeks, now is the time to implement the next stage in our plan that will keep New Zealand going throughout the omicron peak,” Hipkins said.

The key changes in phase three:

  • Isolation: Close contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate and only confirmed cases and household contacts of a confirmed case will be required to do so. Confirmed cases and household contacts should isolate for 10 days but can now self-release after day 10, providing any testing requirements are met. If they develop symptoms, they are encouraged to test sooner.
  • Testing: Rapid antigen tests will become the primary form of testing. “You can now access a RAT from hundreds of locations around the country, making getting a test much easier and over the coming days the number of access points will increase significantly,” said Hipkins.
  • Contact tracing: We’re moving to a stance of greater self-management. “This will include use of a new self-investigation tool which will support positive cases to self-notify contacts,” said Hipkins. “Because only household contacts are required to isolate, the tool will assist us to track high risk exposure events or locations. Contact tracing teams will now focus on identifying and tracing those who have visited these high-risk location such as hospital or aged care facility.”

Hipkins said the next few weeks are “going to be tough”, but said New Zealand was better-positioned than most to respond to omicron. “What we’re seeing is what we expected. We just need to stick to our plan as we manage higher numbers of cases in coming weeks before we reach our peak,” he said.

Rapid tests will become easier to access in the coming days, added Ashley Bloomfield. This will relieve pressure on laboratories, with PCR tests only used in certain circumstances. The results of rapid tests will be incorporated into the daily 1pm figures.

Asked about earlier indications that “household-like” contacts would be included in isolation requirements at phase three, Hipkins confirmed it’s now genuine household contacts only. “We’re trying to make this as simple as possible, we don’t want there to be confusion about who needs to isolate.”

A note about The Spinoff Members

With omicron cases increasing and an ongoing 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.

Huge queues at Covid testing centres – despite rapid test rollout

Photo: Ben Gracewood

Queues for Covid-19 tests in Auckland are long today, despite everyone being provided with a rapid antigen test.

It’s expected that the government will move us into phase three of the omicron response tonight, a shift that mean would wider use of rapid tests and changes to our contact tracing system.

Video from the Te Atatu Peninsula testing site from earlier this morning showed the queue of cars stretching out of the town centre.

Photo: Ben Gracewood

Meanwhile, another Spinoff staffer reported the line in Northcote to be “insanely long” with hundreds of cars waiting.

Two ‘high risk’ sex offenders have been attending protest

A pair of “high risk” sex offenders have been attending the protest outside parliament, reported Stuff.

The protest has been attended by around 1,000 people on same days, including families with small children.

The offenders were subject to round-the-clock monitoring and orders not to contact children. Corrections told Stuff that the offenders, who were wearing ankle bracelets, had not breached their release conditions by attending the protest. The department has told the pair not to visit the area again.

Looking to the future of Māori media on Te Karere’s 40th birthday

This week on The Spinoff’s te ao Māori podcast Nē? we’re marking the 40th anniversary of te reo news bulletin Te Karere by getting into the weeds of where Māori media is headed. Hosts Leonie Hayden and Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes are joined by media legends Mihingarangi Forbes and Peter-Lucas Jones.

Follow Nē? on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider. 

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Handful of cars make it through police blockade outside parliament

More cars managed to enter the protest zone outside parliament last night after occupiers moved the concrete blocks at the Lambton Quay checkpoint.

Footage shared on social media showed a handful of vehicles made it through the blockade before police intervened. Officers ran into place, blocking the gap.

According to 1News, at least one protester was handcuffed following the incident.

Today is day 17 of the occupation. Police said officers will continue to reduce the cordon around the protest in the coming days, and there will be a visible presence around parliament.