Thousands of people gathered Tuesday outside of New Zealand’s parliament building in the capital, Wellington, to protest the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 protesters marched through central Wellington carrying signs displaying various anti-mandate slogans, with many waving campaign flags of former U.S. president Donald Trump. Security personnel closed nearly all entrances to the parliament campus and its iconic “Beehive” building during the demonstrations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters inside parliament, “What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders.”
The nation of 5 million people has been among the best in the world at containing the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, largely because New Zealand closed its borders for most of the last 18 months to non-residents.
The strategy to eliminate COVID-19 worked for the most part, with the nation reporting only 28 deaths over the course of the pandemic. Earlier this year, much of the country had all but returned to normal.
But New Zealand has been battling a rise of new infections triggered by the Delta variant since August, prompting Prime Minister Ardern to impose new lockdowns in Auckland, its largest city, and other parts of the country. The new outbreaks also have forced Ardern to change from a strategy of total elimination of COVID-19 to controlling the virus through mass vaccinations.
The government announced a new goal for all doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health care workers to be fully vaccinated by December, with teachers and other education workers required to be fully vaccinated by January.
Additionally, the government has implemented a new “traffic-light” system that would loosen nearly all restrictions once 90% of an area’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ardern announced Monday the strict lockdown imposed on Auckland will be lifted by the end of November, with some restrictions beginning to ease Tuesday as the city nears 90% vaccination.
Meanwhile, authorities in Singapore announced Monday that beginning December 8, it will no longer pay medical bills for any future COVID-19 patients who are “unvaccinated by choice.”
The city-state currently covers the full medical costs for any Singaporean who tests positive for the virus, as well permanent residents and long-term visa holders, unless they test positive shortly after returning home from overseas.
But Singapore is currently struggling with a surge of new infections that is threatening to overwhelm its health care system, despite 85% of its eligible population having been fully vaccinated.
The Health Ministry said it will continue to cover partly vaccinated patients until December 31 to allow them time to get their second shots.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.