Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she did not have a message for the anti-vaccination protesters outside Parliament today, but she did have a message for the vaccinated: “thank you.”

“What we saw today was not representative of the view of the vast bulk of New Zealanders. So, actually, my message would be for them. It would be to say thank you. Thank you for being vaccinated, and doing what it takes to look after one another.”

She said Parliament was a place people could freely protest, and there had been large protests in the past. “That does not mean what we saw here today was in any way representative of the vast majority of New Zealanders.”

Ardern was the subject of many of the protesters’ placards and criticisms, and she said she was aware of anger at her because she ran her own social media. For some time, those who are against vaccinations have targeted Ardern’s social media pages.

However, she did not believe the majority of New Zealanders felt that way, pointing to the vaccination rates nearing 90 per cent for single doses.

“I think they appreciate we are on a road to being able to open up more and have a bit more of that normality back. Yes, it’s been a tough road, but what we’ve done has been on behalf of everyone.”

On Wednesday, retail will re-open in Auckland and Ardern will make her first visit to the city since the lockdowns began in mid-August.

She said she intended to meet with business representatives and those working in the health workforce and vaccination centres.

“It will be a chance for me to see things for myself. I have been staying in touch with business leaders and representatives, I am on regular calls with health workers but it is something to see it for yourself as well.”

While the level 3 rules restricted what she could do, she had put in a request to be able to talk to workers at workplaces she was visiting as well.

Ardern said it was too early to say whether vaccine mandates would have to be a long-term part of New Zealand’s response, but defended the decision to use them “in the here and now”.

She said those sectors with mandates on them were those with higher risks to them.

“it’s hard to know how long we’ll have to use provisions like that. Of course, we all want this to be a period in our history that we don’t repeat, but it’s so hard to know what the future holds.”

School teachers and staff are included in the mandates, and some of those protesting at Parliament were from schools.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said an active and organised group seemed to be spreading some disinformation about vaccines around schools and that was having an impact.

“One of the things I’m acutely aware of is, particularly in some of the smaller schools, some of that misinformation is actually having an impact on teachers’ willingness to get vaccinated.

“It’s clear that the level of disinformation out there does seem to be growing.”

He said the Ministry of Education would work with people who were worried about vaccines to help allay concerns and provide reliable information.

He said given New Zealand’s high vaccination rates, the groups of people protesting outside Parliament today were clearly not representative of the wider public.

Tomorrow, Hipkins is expected to give an update on when Auckland schools can reopen to more students and will also have an update on vaccine certificates.

“We’re on track to have … people signing up and being able to access those probably late next week.”

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