New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern shrugs off car chase by anti-vaccination protesters

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New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said “at no point was I worried about my safety” after her van was chased and forced on to a curb by anti-vaccination protesters.

Footage of the incident, which took place last week, was posted to social media in recent days. It shows protesters shouting slogans at the van, including “shame on you,” and “we do not consent”. A person filming inside a car is heard saying “there’s Jacinda” and “​​Oh this is fun, we’re on a chase.” The car pursues the prime minister’s van and at one point someone inside calls the prime minister “a Nazi” and shouts various obscenities. As their vehicle tries to block the van, the van is forced on to the curb to avoid it, then continues on.

Asked about the incident on Tuesday afternoon, Ardern said it was “just another day”.

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“At no point was I worried about my safety or the safety of anyone that was with me,” she said.

“Every day is faced with new and different experiences in this job … We are in an environment at the moment that does have an intensity to it that is unusual for New Zealand. I do also believe that with time it will pass.”

The incident comes amid a small but notable rise in threats against politicians and public figures involved in the pandemic response in New Zealand. According to police data released under the official information act to 1News this week, threats towards MPs reached a three-year high in one month last year. Threats to politicians serious enough to trigger a report to police are still relatively rare in New Zealand, reaching an average of about five a month toward the end of 2021, but sometimes spiking to 16 a month.

NZ Police told 1 News the incidents included threats to injure, harm and assassinate politicians, including one person who had threatened to send a bomb to parliament.

Ardern said on Tuesday that being subject to these kinds of incidents was part of the job. “I see that as just being a reflection of the fact that we are the decision makers. And if people don’t like the decisions that are being made, then it’s us that of course will hear the feedback about that.”

In late 2021, New Zealand’s parliament stepped up security measures after reports from MPs that they were being targeted for harassment by anti-vaxxers, and parliamentary services added a small budget to help MPs change locks or security systems.

Covid response minister and leader of the house Chris Hipkins told the Guardian in November that one of his electoral offices had been subject to repeated attacks from anti-vaxxers, and that he had stepped up security. Having to adopt additional security measures ran counter to the highly accessible government that New Zealand valued, he said.

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“I’ve always believed that New Zealand parliamentarians being as accessible as we are is something special about New Zealand, and I’m generally reluctant to see that change,” Hipkins said last November.

“The actions of a small group of individuals is the problem here, and it would be sad to see the openness of our democracy being undermined by a small group of vocal and aggressive people.”

The vast majority of New Zealanders have supported the country’s vaccination drive, with close to 95% of adults vaccinated.

But some have strongly resisted either vaccination itself, or the mandates that have accompanied it: with about 40% of the country’s workforce are covered by vaccine mandates. Under current regulations, people without a vaccine pass cannot dine indoors, or visit high-contact businesses like hairdressers and gyms.

The New Zealand police had not responded to a request for comment by time of publication. The prime minister’s office has also been approached for comment.

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