Authorities in New Zealand say police have been the target of two separate attacks by protesters staging a sit-in protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the capital Wellington.
A protester was caught on video speeding in his car towards a group of officers Tuesday morning before coming to a quick stop moments before colliding with them. The driver was pulled out of the car and arrested for driving in a dangerous manner.
Meanwhile, three police officers were taken to a hospital for treatment after they were sprayed with what was described as a “stinging substance” that police believe was acid. Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters Tuesday the three police officers are “recovering well” after the attack.
The two incidents occurred hours after hundreds of police were deployed to move roadblocks into a tighter cordon around a large group of demonstrators who have blocked roads around Parliament for two weeks and have set up an elaborate camp on Parliament grounds.
The encampment, complete with tents, portable toilets, food distribution points and childcare facilities, emulates the anti-vaccine protests that were staged in the Canadian capital of Ottawa until police pushed out the demonstrators Sunday. The protests have evolved from its strict focus against the government’s vaccine mandates into a broader anti-government demonstration.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denounced the attacks on police as “disgraceful” Tuesday and called on the demonstrators to leave Wellington. Police said Monday some of the protesters had thrown human excrement at them.
New Zealand has reported just 36,164 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 56 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Some say the low numbers of casualties is due to strict border controls and lockdowns imposed by Ardern’s government that drew praise from the international community. However, the Pacific nation of 5 million people has struggled recently with a major outbreak of new cases driven by the omicron variant, with daily case numbers rising above a seven-day average of more than 1,600 cases, according to Reuters.
Ardern told protesters Monday that she will begin easing COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions once the current surge subsides.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.