Police have warned a "significant number" of new recruits to the Parliament protest which has closed off a section of central Wellington are to arrive over the weekend.
And the country's most senior officer has reiterated negotiation and de-escalation are the only way to resolve the protest now in its 11th day on Parliament grounds.
"The number of people, structures and vehicles has continued to grow over the past 24 hours," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said this afternoon.
"Police also anticipate a significant number of people joining the protest over the weekend."
Coster said this afternoon they had assessed that any enforcement action would run the risk of wider harm than the protest was already creating.
"We continue to carefully navigate our options to reopen the roads, but the most desirable way to end this safely is to encourage open communication channels," he said.
When asked by media why police were letting protesters do "whatever they want", Coster said positive talks had happened today and he was confident more progress could be made.
The Commissioner said police today decided towing vehicles would escalate tensions, but a traffic management plan would be preferable.
"There was a growth in the number of people" after Coster proposed towing protester vehicles away, he said.
"We needed to explore the option of that and test what the reaction would be."
Coster said it was now felt ongoing dialogue was the best option.
"We have 10,000 staff ... we have dramatically lifted the number of staff undertaking patrols."
The Commissioner said nationwide, about 136 police were out of action with Covid-19, and some staff working on the operation had been affected by Covid.
They anticipated a significant number of people joining the protest over the weekend, which was measured at about 800 at last count.
"We continue to have a baseline of people feeling intimidated feeling threatened," he said.
He added: "There is management within the group about people's behaviour."
"The majority of people involved are peaceful ... however, there are some around the fringes ... who need to be managed."
Coster said police used professional judgement to decide de-escalation was the best option.
Returning to the threat of towing which never materialised, Coster said: "That approach would have been provocative and unhelpful."
On whether police had abandoned Wellingtonians, he said: "Not at all ... police needs to manage this in a way that does not contribute to an already tense situation."
He said there was a real chance to talk with protest leaders about how to better manage the spaces under occupation.
In an earlier statement, police said they recognised the ongoing impact of the protest, particularly on residents and users in the surrounding area.
"Police has increased its patrols and will maintain a highly visible, reassurance presence."
"Today we will be putting in place a traffic management plan to control vehicle numbers to ensure that fire and ambulance vehicles are able to access the protest site."
Earlier, a protester taking part in the occupation at Parliament said nothing would change until politicians addressed the people, as Wellington leaders renewed calls for the protest to end immediately.
Speaker Trevor Mallard released a statement yesterday, outlining the terms of engagement for MPs.
He said they will not speak with protesters until all illegally parked vehicles are cleared, tents are removed, and the intimidation towards Wellingtonians is stopped.
A protester in the camp this morning said that was not going to happen, and described the cars blocking roads around Parliament as "passive protest".
"We've blocked the roads to make a point. That's not violence, that's passive protest.
"Until the politicians come out and address the people that ain't gonna change. It's not a battle of the wills, it's not a chicken game.
"Politicians need to come and listen to the voice of the people."
She said she was pro-vax and pro-choice but anti-mandate, and politicians needed to come out and hear their views for themselves.
She said the Government had made a new vulnerable society out of the already vulnerable with its vaccine mandates, and they couldn't just ignore that.
The woman said there was no sign of the protesters packing up after Mallard's ultimatum – instead, the protest was growing.
"This is spreading into streets all around the place. More streets are being blocked off because the country is coming."
While all political parties continue to refuse to meet with protesters, a joint statement on behalf of Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has renewed calls for the protest to end immediately.
"We remind the protesters this city and these streets are those of Wellingtonians who have the right to access them freely and without fear," it reads.
"The people of Wellington have had enough of this illegal activity, harassment and disruption, we ask that it end immediately."
The statement has been signed by dozens of Wellington leaders, including the mayors of Wairarapa, Wellington, Porirua and Hutt City, as well as councillors, school principals and hospitality owners.
Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff said the protest is affecting workers' ability to do their jobs safely and without abuse.
"The protest has involved harassment of the public, it has prevented workers from moving around and from accessing public transport, it has blocked roads and put emergency services at risk."
"We are further concerned at the tone of much of the protest, calling for violence against our elected representatives and the media."
"We therefore ask that the protest at the Parliament precinct end immediately."
In a separate statement, Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said he and city leaders had written to Robertson and Small Business Minister Stuart Nash requesting urgent financial support during this period of "unprecedented hardship".
The statement said the capital's hospitality and retail businesses had been significantly impacted by the red light setting and anti-mandate protests and have requested assistance like the wage subsidy and resurgence support payment from Government.
The joint request comes from the mayor, Wellington City Council, and top bosses from the Chamber of Commerce, Retail NZ, as well as other organisations including WellingtonNZ.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce CEO Simon Arcus said many of the businesses in Wellington's events, hospitality and retail sectors were already having to make tough calls.
"The damaging shift to red and the impact of Omicron have been compounded by the protests at Parliament – keeping people away from the city. We know targeted support is being considered, but it needs to happen quickly."
Another protester, Miles Marsden, travelled up from Geraldine to take part in the protest and is also calling Mallard's request to move the vehicles "stupid".
"It's a silly idea that we should all go home first and then they'll talk. The minute we walk out of here, they'll just carry on as normal."
The retired 71-year-old used to own a Ford dealership, and has been away from home for 10 days.
He says he's "deeply concerned" with the way the Government is running the country.
"I want my grandkids to grow up in the beautiful New Zealand that I grew up in and have the opportunities that I had. It's not gonna happen while they're there."
Marsden says the journey to Wellington had been an emotional one for him, seeing the amount of support out there for the cause.
"The people out there that are backing us – if you'd seen the people on the side of the roads coming up from down the South Island, it was actually emotional there were that many."
"Stop thinking of us as a rabble. This morning they called us a mob – this is not a mob, this is a protest. I've met some brilliant people. Highly qualified people from all walks of life."
Marsden called on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to front.
"This could be solved in five minutes. She's the leader, if she's too scared to come out, why doesn't she put a message across the loud speakers for the crowd here to nominate six speakers to go in and discuss this with them."
Another protester at the camp today said he was fully vaccinated, but wanted to see an end to the vaccine mandates.
"I've just come to support the cause and call for an end to the mandates. Adding my five cents."
The man said he'd been at the protest for four or five days and was loving the vibe.
"The music, the people - I just met my mate from the Mount, we're just gas-bagging away about what's happening here."
"He's travelled a long way, I've just come from Newtown. So big ups to this guy for coming with his family," he said.
"The festivities, the vibe everyone is giving - it's nothing but love. What they're saying in there [Parliament] is not what's happening out here."
Earlier, a former defence minister said bringing in the military to deal with the protest at Parliament would do more harm than good.
Police have requested support from the Defence Force to tow illegally parked vehicles, but the Defence Force has yet to commit any specific support.
Former National MP Jonathan Coleman told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking there isn't much the Defence Force could actually do, and the implications could be significant.
"Yes they could tow vehicles, but the Government's got to be very careful because pictures of New Zealand troops facing off with New Zealand citizens looks like West Belfast in the 1970s," he said.
"The Government's now got to a situation where they've got a replay of Bastion Point on one hand, and the alternative doesn't look pretty either."
Meanwhile, Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) has launched a petition for protesters to give students back their campus before Trimester 1 starts on February 28.
"While VUWSA are firm advocates of the right to protest peacefully and believe in the importance of organising and speaking out - our students have a right to safely access their campus and education," the association said in a statement.
"There is no place for the harassment and intimidation which have been directed at students, staff and the public - this is not peaceful protesting.
"During a time of such Covid-19 crisis, it is important that our university community can utilise our facilities and the bus routes in this city safely."
The petition has attracted more than 2500 signatures in the 12 hours since it was released.