The woman jailed for breaking out of a managed isolation facility appeared at a protest rally against the government’s use of lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions.
A crowd of a few thousand packed in Auckland’s Aotea Square this afternoon, at the “National Rally for Freedom”, organised by Advance Party co-leaders, Jami Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika.
There was little social distancing and few people in the crowd wearing masks.
When the rally was finished, the large group continued its protest down Auckland’s Queen Street before returning to Aotea Square.
There were a number of police present at the rally; they refused to comment when approached by RNZ and asked whether there were any concerns about social distancing given the size of the crowd.
In a statement to RNZ later, police said with today’s event it was “possible that attempts to enforce Alert Level restrictions would have caused tension in an otherwise peaceful protest, without being effective in managing physical distancing of participants”.
Inspector Grant Tetzlaff from Auckland City Police says it is common for police to make contact with organisers of planned events “to ensure the events will be carried out in a peaceful manner that is safe for all involved”.
He says they spoke to organisers to ensure they were mindful of their obligations under alert level restrictions currently in place.
“The actions of police are always dictated by the situation presented to us,” Tetzlaff says.
“Police will be further engaging with organisers of today’s event to set clear expectations for any future action.”
Enforcement options are available for serious or repeat offences, he says.
Te Kahika told those present they “grieved” for the woman known as ‘LK’ after she “was made an example of last month.”
“She is one New Zealander who has suffered a considerable loss because of the government’s responses to Covid-19.”
The woman, who was not named, did not address the crowd.
She was sentenced to 14 days’ jail after escaping from an isolation facility, with the judge saying he accepted grief had likely clouded the woman’s judgement and her negative tests had given her a false sense of safety, but there was an element of “selfishness” in her offending as putting herself before the protection of the community “did not accord with tikanga”.
She was introduced by Te Kahika as “a lady who touched my heart greatly through this experience”.
“I tried to hold her hand during the process, this [is] a mother whose former partner had died, who came to New Zealand, she was tested negative when she got here.”
She applied for a compassionate exemption but that was initially denied; the government said it had been working closely with the family, iwi, Māori wardens, police, and the funeral home on a second request but the woman and her four children absconded a few hours before the decision was due.
Te Kahika told the protest because she was “under threat, is trying to get back to Australia, she’s just going to wave and come out, she’s a brave and courageous lady, she was jailed for 14 days but she was let go in seven as I pounded this government on my Facebook page.”
“If they can imprison a mother of four young children, they can imprison any old one of you, if we say no to the Covid-19 public health bill – they’re tyrants, whānau,” said Te Kahika, as he addressed the crowd.
“We are a logical people.”
Minister of Health Chris Hipkins recently issued a strong warning that “fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories are threatening to derail” the country’s Covid-19 response and impede progress to alert level 1.
He said looking overseas, it was plain to see the coronavirus was “very, very real” and “very, very deadly”, with no vaccine – and while he wanted a co-operative approach, did not rule out punitive measures for people who continue to deliberately spread lies.
Radio New Zealand