After nearly two years of enforcing maximum lockdowns and a zero-tolerance approach to COVID, New Zealand recently ran up the white flag and determined that they were going to have to adopt a strategy of “living with the virus” and follow other countries’ policies of relying on vaccinations to save them. This quickly led to the imposition of vaccine mandates across the country and mass vaccination efforts. Despite the vast majority of Kiwis having quietly accepted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s radical isolation policies as being necessary to keep the virus out of their country, the vaccine mandates proved to be a bridge too far for some. In the past couple of months, protests have appeared in the streets and around government buildings, with the crowds growing increasingly larger. And the protesters have begun to adopt the same tactics and messages that have been seen in the United States, Australia, and other nations. In response, government officials have adopted another tactic taken directly from American media. They’re blaming Trump. (NBC News)
Opposition to vaccinations and frustration with pandemic restrictions are fueling a small but vocal protest movement inspired in part by U.S. politics.
In a working paper it published this month, a team of researchers in New Zealand said there had been a “sharp increase in the popularity and intensity” of disinformation around Covid-19 since August, at the beginning of an outbreak driven by the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for the vast majority of New Zealand’s cases.
The researchers said the disinformation was “being used as a kind of Trojan horse” to coax New Zealanders from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine resistance and then to the embrace of far-right ideologies, like white supremacy and extreme misogyny. Some of the most extreme content, they said, comes from overseas, particularly Australia and the U.S.
We’re already seeing the response from the New Zealand government and news outlets mirroring the strategy employed in the United States. Any mistrust of the vaccine itself or objection to the heavy-handed nature of the mandates is immediately labeled as “misinformation” and linked to every other evil concept they can imagine. In Aukland, the protesters are already being linked to “white supremacy and extreme misogyny.” (A curious response, since the protesters are talking about freedom of movement and speech.)
To be fair, some of the protesters have definitely adopted some of the symbolism and language of overseas demonstrators. The local media has spotted “Make America Great Again” hats and even a couple of QAnon flags at some of the New Zealand protests. This opens the door for the government to ramp up those types of accusations. One university researcher who was invited to comment said that the demonstrations felt like a “miniature New Zealand version of a Trump rally.”
In response, some protest leaders responded using language that’s already familiar to the anti-mandate activists in America and Australia. They countered by saying that they were not opposed to the vaccines. They were opposed to the lack of choice and sudden limits to their freedoms of movement and speech. They consider themselves “pro-choice” when it comes to vaccinations. And the volume of their objections is growing.
All that’s really happened is that the two years of travel bans and lockdowns only postponed what’s appearing inevitable in most non-authoritarian countries. Once you begin rolling out the vaccine mandates, a certain percentage of the people are going to become angry and resist. And the more you try to treat the unvaccinated as some sort of lower caste of social pariahs and block them from the normal functions of everyday life, they’re going to rise up in response. It’s really no different than the protests we’re seeing across much of Europe, in North America, and in Australia. It just took the Kiwis a bit longer to get there.