Police are calling on protesters camped out in Parliament to work with them to try to clear the streets of Wellington.
Despite being intruded from the pitch a few days ago, the protesters remain on the lawn and show no sign of leaving.
Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said there were around 3,000 protesters in attendance over the weekend.
There was a constant presence of 400 to 500 demonstrators in tents on the ground and in the surrounding streets.
Police do not plan to wait for protesters to exit, Parnell said.
“The main objective now is to call on these key organizers, the leaders of the various factions there, to engage with us. We are now going to suggest to them to create this freedom of movement for Wellingtonians and businesses by making you move your vehicles to a stepped area police, we’ll make it easy for you.”
It is unclear exactly where the police want the protesters to move their vehicles.
Police tried to engage with organizers, he said.
“We never sat on our laurels and waited here. You know, we worked 24/7 looking to engage.”
The spread of Covid-19 in crowds is a major concern for police, Parnell said.
“Common logic would tell you in the presence of the public that we have there, mostly no masks, a lot of no-vaccination mandate. It’s a very real risk, not only for the occupiers but also for my staff.”
Sanitation issues at the site are also a concern for police, Parnell said.
“The disinfection took the form of portaloos there…some of the filming was quite graphic, particularly around the children, and in the field, the misery of water, defecation and surrounding environments.”
Asked if authorities had been too slow to respond to the convoy and allow protesters to erect tents at the site, Parnell said “hindsight is a wonderful thing”.
“We were fully aware of a convoy. I don’t think we ever predicted scalability and actually what’s playing out here.”
Police were not involved in the decision to turn on the Parliament House sprinklers and use loud music to try to get rid of protesters, Parnell said.
“It’s not a tactic we would encourage. It is what it is, it happened.”
In a statement, Parnell said police will have a highly visible presence in and around Parliament grounds on Monday to reassure people going about their daily lives in the city.
“We will have foot patrols around the station area, in Molesworth Street and in the streets adjacent to the protest activity,” he said.
He encouraged commuters to plan for continued traffic disruptions, but said police wanted everyone entering the city to feel safe.
Plastic mats used to cover the mud were picked up by the wind and thrown across the compound on Sunday afternoon.
A man started speaking into a megaphone at lunchtime, but protesters didn’t have the full sound system setup of previous days.
Some were calling Parliament and asking where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was. The parliament buildings are largely empty, with politicians not returning to the capital until Tuesday.
Parliamentary Service Director General Rafael Gonzalez-Montero and Speaker Trevor Mallard recommend that only staff members who must visit the Parliament Buildings for exceptional circumstances do so on Monday.
The booming playlist on Parliament’s loudspeakers changed around 11 a.m. and now includes a detuned rendition of “My Heart Will Go On”, Celine Dion’s Titanic theme song.
British musician James Blunt posted earlier on Twitter telling New Zealand police to contact him if the music by Barry Manilow, who was playing, did not deter protesters.
His suggestion was adopted, with his song “You’re Beautiful” now on rotation. He’s played so many times that protesters now know most of the lyrics and sing along.
The songs and the government’s spoken message advising the crowd to leave are met with loud boos and chants of “freedom”.
In its regular statement on Sunday, where the Ministry of Health revealed that there were more than 800 new community cases, the ministry also noted that there had been a number of rumors circulating about possible cases of Covid-19 linked to the protest, but the Regional Public Health Unit has confirmed that there are currently no reported positive cases linked to it.
Molesworth Street remains blocked by cars, motorhomes and lorries and Metlink has stopped all buses using its Lambton interchange until further notice due to the protest.
Retailers say the disruption to surrounding streets has also affected their business.
Superintendent Scott Fraser said police would continue to have a significant presence on Parliament grounds and were exploring options to resolve the disturbance.