New Zealand cracks down on vaccine mandate protests

New Zealand is cracking down on anti-vaccine mandate protests in its capital, Wellington, which have stretched into their third day.

Thousands have blocked traffic outside parliament with trucks, cars and motorcycles, inspired by ongoing demonstrations in Canada.

Police arrested over 50 people on Thursday and forcibly removed hundreds more from the premises, where protesters had been camped for the past few days.

Prime Minister New Zealand Jacinda Ardern told reporters Thursday the protests did not reflect nationwide sentiment. Some 94% of eligible New Zealanders are vaccinated.

"Obviously every New Zealander has a right to protest, but there are also rules around what is able to happen on parliament's forecourt... All of us want to actually move on, we're working very hard to put ourselves in the best possible position to do that."

New Zealand has earned worldwide praise for keeping the country virtually virus-free for the past two years.

But strict COVID restrictions have taken their toll, and Ardern's approval ratings have taken a hit.

Borders are still closed, cutting off tens of thousands of New Zealand expats from their families, and leaving tourism businesses struggling to stay afloat.

Police said those arrested will face trespass and obstruction charges.