* Wellington apartment residents feel like hostages in own homes
* Victoria University campus to be closed for month and a half due to 'protest activity'
* Claire Trevett: Police, politicians and protesters - who's in charge?
* Steven Joyce: Protest much bigger than the protesters
* Steve Braunias: The secret diary of the Hermit Kingdom
* Jack Tame: End Covid anti vaccine mandate protests ...
More protesters have joined the anti Covid vaccine mandate protest at Parliament today, as the police commissioner and Wellington's mayor face the heat over a lack of action.
Protesters appear to be settling in for an even longer haul - one was erecting a shower near the cenotaph, while a herb garden has also been built.
The number of tents on Parliament's lawn has grown substantially today.
A man addressing the hundreds of protesters at Parliament is appealing to former police officers, Defence force staff and more to volunteer for security.
He said as numbers swelled, more security staff was required.
The crowd of protesters has increased significantly through the day.
Police officers on the scene earlier told the Herald they had witnessed an influx of people arriving at the protest site.
The man also referenced claims of graffiti on the Wellington cenotaph. He said veterans had experienced their displeasure at the graffiti and he urged people to refrain from adding more and asked people to help remove what had been done.
Speculation on social media of protesters setting up a toilet next to the Wellington cenotaph have been quashed.
A man who was occupying the area said he had been constructing a shower next to the monument when the toilet rumour started to spread.
Because of the speculation, he decided to move the shower out into the open to avoid offending anyone.
Meanwhile, Wellington mayor Andy Foster is refusing to say what is being planned to deal with the protest at Parliament, despite calls for him to "step up" and show leadership.
On Friday, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster announced the police would not pursue any enforcement action against protesters despite the protest site growing by the day.
He also backtracked on an earlier pledge to start towing vehicles from occupied streets around Parliament, saying that would only escalate tensions.
"We needed to explore the option of that and test what the reaction would be. That approach would have been provocative and unhelpful."
Coster instead said a traffic management plan, coupled with de-escalation tactics, would be the police focus.
Wellington mayoral candidate Tory Whanau said today that, in the absence of a plan from police, mayor Andy Foster needed to step up and advocate for Wellingtonians, and put forward a solution.
"Police have portrayed our options as either full escalation or total appeasement. In reality there is a pragmatic middle ground that the mayor and police could be pursuing.
"The mayor needs to show some leadership and advocate for Wellingtonians whose freedom to move safely about the city, access the university and workplaces is being denied."
Foster confirmed he had had several conversations with his staff and police this morning on the next steps to deal with the protesters.
However, he would not reveal what the next steps were or a time frame for announcing them.
"Operational things I don't divulge," Foster said. "We'll tell you when we're taking that [next step].
"We are very focused on trying to work actually on the issue at the moment. When we've got something to tell you I will be in touch. I'll do that when I'm ready to do that."
When asked whether he had an obligation to communicate with the Wellington public over the state of the protest, Foster said: "The only problem is then you communicate with the protesters as well".
Whanau said a "middle ground option" would be for police to enforce a perimeter around the protest to stop it spreading any further into Thorndon and the City.
"I also want to see the police targeting enforcement to regain access to the university and city's main bus station. This would leave the main protest camp in place but create a "harassment-free" corridor for Wellingtonians from the train and bus stations to the city.
"The protesters have a right to protest, but students also have a right to go to class, our local businesses should be able to open their doors without fear of their customers being hassled, and Wellingtonians have a right to move about their city without being abused and harassed."
Whanau said she had talked to a lot of Wellingtonians this week who were shocked at the lack of leadership.
"I don't want to see this situation escalate into unnecessary violence. I, like many Wellingtonians, have friends and family members who are at or support the protest and we want to keep them safe.
"But we cannot send a message that if you park enough cars in the street and threaten violence you're suddenly immune from any social consequence."
Today, the protest is expected to grow. Police have warned a "significant" number of additional protesters are expected to show up at Parliament this weekend.
Police on site this morning have already acknowledged an increase in the number of protesters present.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster meanwhile has denied abandoning Wellingtonians after his tow truck bluster backfired in relation to ending the protest.
Coster had lost credibility after issuing a threat to tow protester vehicles which could not be backed up, National Party police spokesman Mark Mitchell said.
A group of 29 Wellington mayors, school principals, councillors and MPs have called for the illegal protest activities in and around Parliament to end.
But reality TV personality Gilda Kirkpatrick, musician Jason Kerrison and former Team New Zealand and Oracle yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts voiced support for the protest.
At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Coster said the majority of demonstrators were peaceful and protest groups had established some internal discipline.
Coster admitted his threat earlier in the week to tow protest convoy vehicles led to a surge in demonstrator numbers, and said more protesters would arrive this weekend.
"The number of people, structures and vehicles has continued to grow over the past 24 hours," Coster said.
"Police also anticipate a significant number of people joining the protest over the weekend."
Coster said some protest leaders had a "genuine acknowledgement" a lawful protest might be desirable.
And he said positive steps had been made after all parties in Parliament called on the protest to operate within the law if negotiations were to be considered.
MPs have largely objected to illegal parking in local roads and the erection of tents and other structures on Parliament's grounds.
On whether police had abandoned Wellingtonians, Coster said: "Not at all ... police need to manage this in a way that does not contribute to an already tense situation."
"In my view, he's lost all credibility," Mitchell said of the Commissioner.
Though not explicitly calling for Coster's resignation, Mitchell said it was likely at least one assistant or deputy commissioner was qualified enough to take over.
Mitchell said he had sympathy for police officers, but Labour Party "policing by consent mumbo-jumbo" had created a culture of impunity.
Police Minister Poto Williams was approached for comment and replied briefly: "I continue to have confidence in the New Zealand Police."
Thousands of people have gathered in Wellington since February 8, airing a range of views and grievances, but opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates is a major theme.
Police officer Detective Senior Sergeant Ryan Yardley was at the protest and told Newstalk ZB he had been given the choice of getting vaccinated or losing his job.
"The emotional toll it's taken on me and my family, that's a lot of what's driving me," he said.
"It's scarring. Everyone knows someone who's affected by these mandates."
Yardley told ZB a political or health-based solution to the protest was needed, not a policing solution.
"It's a peaceful protest and everyone seems happy. I think all they want to do is be heard."
He said opposing vaccine mandates through the legal system was also worthwhile.
Protester Mark Pavlovich travelled from Lake Hāwea yesterday and the Herald asked what he thought of Coster's non-intervention approach.
"I don't think they have a choice. I think what they experienced the other day surprised them," he said, referring to the mass arrests on Thursday, February 10.
"I think police expected a violent reaction, which could have given them an excuse to go further, but it didn't happen."
Pavlovich said he didn't think people would respond with violence to any intervention, but they would not move on voluntarily.
Civic leaders from South Wairarapa to Wellington, including mayors and the vice-chancellor of Victoria University, said blocked roads posed a risk to emergency services and severely disrupted businesses.
Local residents, workers and students had been harassed and abused when trying to get around the area, the group of 29 said.
"There has been intimidation to Wellingtonians and city workers, and some residents have reported being too frightened or distressed to leave their homes."
The group added: "There is a right to peaceful protest in New Zealand that it is important to uphold. However, this protest has gone well beyond that point."
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann said recent protest activity prevented vehicle access to Wellington High Court and the Court of Appeal.
"Functioning courts are critical to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of human rights. The courts must be able to continue to do their work."
A Change.org petition demanding protesters leave Wellington equated the convoy with last year's US Capitol riots.
The petition criticising "a disparate group of conspiracy theorists, religious cult members, anti-vaxxers , anti-mandate believers and flat-Earthers" received more than 32,000 signatures yesterday.
Meanwhile, six protest groups issued a statement apologising for treatment some journalists received when trying to cover the Wellington protest.
"We have re-briefed the internal security team and will continue to implement our internal communications strategy - whereby speakers will talk to the crowd throughout the day about the need for continued tolerance and respect to everyone including the media."
A Curia poll conducted for Family First found 39 per cent of people agreed employers should be able to sack unvaccinated staff, but 38 per cent opposed such moves.
Max Whitehead, employment advocate, said he was receiving many queries about the rights of unvaccinated workers and about people navigating workplace mandates.
He said employees attending anti-mandate protests could face disciplinary action but the odds of winning a case varied by industry and the nuances of protest action.
"The protest is a legally entitled thing to do," Whitehead told the Herald.
"If, however, the employee was breaching the law and brought the organisation into disrepute ... the employer could take a disciplinary action against the employee."
The Council of Trade Unions condemned the protest and said it did not support anti-mandate calls.
Richard Wagstaff, NZCTU president, said the protest was riddled with "conspiracy theories and unscientific assertions being circulated in an effort to undermine our public health response".
Yesterday, a record-high 1929 cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the community. The majority of cases were in Auckland.
- By John Weekes, Michael Neilson