Protesters and police have clashed on the evening of the 14th day of the anti-mandate occupation near Parliament as tensions boiled over.
Dozens of police officers lined up on Bowen St outside Parliament just after 5.30pm, and dozens more people watched, on as a brief standoff ensued over a protester's white station wagon in the road.
Up to 40 officers surrounded the vehicle, briefly stopping traffic at the intersection of Lambton Quay and Bowen St before vehicles were again able to move up the street.
The majority of police were still on the scene by 6pm.
Another brief standoff on Bowen St occurred when 11 police officers were involved in a short confrontation near the Supreme Court end of the street.
Just after 7pm police and protesters clashed again near the Cenotaph. A protester set off fireworks, which sounded like gunshots, after police appeared to remove a protester from a vehicle.
Tension flared between police and protesters as one officer rushed into the crowd to make an arrest, which appeared to be successful.
Other protesters rushed to stop the man who had left off the fireworks, removing it from his hand. The protesters were later seen grabbing the man and handing him over to police, along with the firework. The man appeared to be taken into police custody.
There has been some back and forth between police and the protest line, with various advances and withdrawals.
Many protesters urged people to remain peaceful.
A bus to Karori has been trying to get through.
"Please clear the road, and police will have no reason to advance," a protester with a loudspeaker said.
"There is no confrontation unless we make a confrontation."
Another man with a beer bottle in his hand started yelling "warriors" but a protester berated him.
"Are you here to mess it up for us all?" another protester yelled at him.
The situation calmed down at 7.30pm.
Top cop blasts protesters
One of New Zealand's top police officers said "genuine protesters" are no longer in control of the behaviour at Parliament after human waste was thrown at cops this morning.
Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said "spillage of effluent into storm water drains, throwing of human waste at police officers, disruption and intimidation at the courts and the University are unacceptable".
"The type of behaviours we have seen in the past few days show that genuine protestors are no longer in control of the behaviour in and around Parliament," Chambers said.
Chambers said moves to close off the area around Parliament to arriving vehicles is already proving successful.
"We have already seen cars, trucks and vans vacate the vicinity," said
"It is not our desire to interfere with lawful protest, but we are committed to returning the streets of Wellington to Wellingtonians."
PM - 'Everyone is over Covid'
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said Covid-19 restrictions under the traffic light system, as well as vaccine passes, will be eased only once New Zealand is "well beyond the peak" of the Omicron outbreak.
Speaking at her post-Cabinet media conference in Wellington, Ardern also had a message for the protesters who have been occupying Parliament's lawns for two weeks.
"Everyone is over Covid. No one wants to live with rules and restrictions, but had we not been willing to protect one another, then we all would have been worse off as individuals," Ardern said.
"We all want to go back to the way that life was and we will, I suspect sooner than we think.
"The protesters have made their point. It's time for them to leave."
Protesters have been occupying the area demanding that vaccine mandates, restricting the movements of the unvaccinated, be dropped. Ardern said she would not put thousands of people at risk or dismantle swathes of the pandemic response system just because the protesters "demanded" that.
New Zealand is expected to hit its Omicron peak in mid to late March - when it would likely be more realistic to ease public health measures, Ardern said.
Restrictions like vaccine mandates have "always been the least bad option".
"Once we come through a wave and a peak of Omicron, that equation changes because many unvaccinated people at that point will have been exposed to Covid-19."
Ardern said new variants and potential future waves meant it was still likely the traffic light system would have to be maintained.
"We need to ensure our health system can manage a heavier burden as well. We must brace for the next six weeks."
Ardern said New Zealand had already stopped lockdowns, was soon about to start opening international borders and was preparing to wind down MIQ.
While Ardern said mandates were likely to remain important in some places - such as some healthcare sectors, where vulnerable people were exposed - vaccine passes would likely be removed when the country moved away from the red traffic light stage.
"But masks still are helpful, and at different stages, you have different gathering limits."
She said health officials wanted New Zealand to be cautious as winter approached.
Ardern insisted she had confidence in Police Commissioner Andrew Coster for his handling of the occupation, and said she had "absolute support" for police.
'Would offend most New Zealanders'
Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson urged those who wanted to attend the protest simply out of curiosity to consider some of the messaging at the site, and the impact the occupation had on local businesses and students.
"Do not attend. You will have seen some of the signage that is down on that forecourt that I would like to think would offend most New Zealanders," Ardern said.
Although many signs at the protest have had a succinct anti-mandate message, others at times have referenced a range of conspiracy theories or Covid-19 theories sometimes viewed as misinformation.
"Whilst some may simply be interested, I think they wouldn't want to send a message of support for some of the messaging you've seen down there," Ardern said.
"The police are trying and working very hard to enforce a barricade around the side. I'm sure you would not want to make their job any harder."
Robertson, Wellington Central MP, urged people to think of workers, students, residents and others who faced obstruction.
"If you're here because you're curious, think about the level of disruption that has been caused to all of those people and the harassment those people are currently receiving.
"If you're here because you're curious, think about the level of disruption that has been caused to all of those people and the harassment those people are currently receiving."
Ardern said a range of groups were obviously present and she referred to a letter six groups signed off on last week.
"I would remind people that in their letter they demanded that all of the protections that we currently have in place to slow down the pandemic, they wish to have removed."
The PM said she believed most New Zealanders would disagree with the protester groups' demands.
On broader disagreements over policy, Ardern added: "I do not for a moment believe that differences of opinion mean that we are divided as a nation."
Robertson said the Government didn't have a specific timeframe on when vaccine mandates would be eased.
It would be after we'd come down from the peak, Robertson told Newstalk ZB.
The Deputy PM said the mandates continued to offer protection.
"But as the Prime Minister said today we are going to reach a point when ... some of these impositions we've got ourselves no longer have utility. But for now they're part of our armoury," he said.
"We take our advice from health advisers and they continue to say they [mandates] play a role at the moment," he said.
Robertson said the Government had to see how New Zealand experiences the Omicron outbreak.
The advice from health professionals to the Government said the country needed to wait until well past the peak of Omicron before easing mandates.
Robertson said he had confidence in the Police Commissioner, echoing what Ardern said this afternoon.
As Wellington Central MP, Robertson thanked police and said he'd heard from residents who appreciated the work officers had done
He said individual decisions about enforcement were for police to make.
"I am not the Commissioner of Police ... I don't get to make those types of decisions," Robertson said when asked about how officers should handle the protest.
Wellington police staff test positive
Wellington area prevention manager Warwick McKee confirmed a "small number" of staff working out of the city's central police station have tested positive for Covid-19.
They are isolating along with their close contacts, McKee said.
"For privacy reasons and because the situation is changing so quickly we won't be getting into specifics."
Wellington District is experienced at responding to critical events and adapting to changing demands and needs, McKee said.
"We have been planning and preparing for the delivery of policing services in the Covid-19 and more specifically the Omicron environment.
"While these may be challenging times, we are focused on ensuring the health and wellbeing of our people and delivering the policing service the community expects."
Hunt on for human waste throwers
Meanwhile, police are on the hunt for protesters who threw human waste at officers following a pre-dawn police operation this morning.
Beginning at 3.30am police installed barricades at eight locations to encircle the protest at Parliament, which is now in its 14th day.
Reporters on the scene this morning described protesters climbing on trucks to stop the barricade, abusing passers-by, removing the masks of officers and even throwing human waste at police.
Eight people were arrested, seven for disorderly behaviour and one for obstruction, a police statement this afternoon confirmed.
Two of those arrested remain in custody as they refused to provide their details to police.
Seven officers also sustained injuries during the operation, ranging from scratches to an ankle injury, the statement said.
The statement also confirmed police had human waste thrown at them by protesters.
"Deliberately infecting someone with disease is a serious offence punishable by 14 years imprisonment. Likewise attempting to do so attracts a significant penalty," read the statement.
"Police will be investigating and will hold to account those identified as responsible for these actions."
"We invite anyone with information about who is responsible to come forward."
Meanwhile about 20 cars have voluntarily left the occupied area in the bus interchange near Parliament.
Police stationed at other points of the blockade said they had witnessed cars leaving throughout the day, as they allowed entry to residents and workers.
One man who was leaving the bus interchange area when the Herald was present said he was heading back to Whanganui.
He asked the officer on-site whether he could re-enter and was told he couldn't and was offered a spot at Sky Stadium.
Raw sewage emptied into the city's stormwater system near Parliament is now being investigated by Greater Wellington Regional council.
A warning has been issued by Land Air Water Aotearoa (Lawa), saying waste was being discharged into the western side of the harbour, affecting Taranaki St dive platform and the waterfront area around Shed 6.
"We advise people to avoid swimming, recreating, fishing in the harbour until notified", the notice said.
Council is also aware of reports that protesters are putting waste, including from portaloos, directly into street drains.
A council spokesperson said they were working closely with iwi, police, Ministry of Health, Wellington City Council, Wellington Water and Lawa.
"We will continue to monitor this situation but are unlikely to send our environmental monitoring team into the Parliament precinct to investigate to protect the health and safety of our staff."
A total of 2365 community cases of Covid-19 were recorded today, including 89 in the Wellington region.
When asked on Friday whether any police at Parliament had Covid-19 or were considered close contacts, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said some staff working on the operation had been affected by the virus.
"We are working on whether or not that relates to their duties there or indeed other contacts they've had", Coster said.
Further questions to police this morning about how many officers working on the protest operation are confirmed cases have gone unanswered.
Regional Public Health (RPH) Medical Officer of Health Dr Stephen Palmer said now the second phase of the Omicron outbreak response has been activated, RPH does not receive information on all cases.
Therefore, he said RPH was not aware of any cases within the Wellington protest site.
It comes as a defiant Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning renewed her message that it's time for the protesters to go home, doubling down on her refusal to meet with them or negotiate.
Around 3.30am police moved in and installed concrete barriers in eight locations, including Lambton Quay, Mulgrave St, Hill St, Molesworth St, Bunny St and Kate Sheppard Place.
The barriers are intended to prevent the protest at Parliament from expanding further into Wellington city and to maintain access for residents, businesses and emergency vehicles.
The concrete barriers, usually used for river works, are on loan from Greater Wellington Regional Council.
It's understood a select few protesters threw excrement sourced from portaloos at police officers during the action early this morning.
An officer told the Herald it occurred as officers held off protesters while concrete blocks were being put down at various streets around Parliament.
He also said some protesters ripped off police officers' masks as they clashed.
Later, police confirmed they were allowing sanitary vehicles through to clean protesters' portaloos. Earlier this morning, protesters claimed the vehicles hadn't been let through the barricades after they were set up at 3.30am.
A protester who woke to the surprise police action this morning described how protesters from all around the Parliament area were yelling and shouting as police moved in.
The man said many protesters were chanting "hold the line" as officers held off protesters while concrete blocks were placed at the end of various streets.
He said many of the children in the area were upset and crying as it was taking place.
On Featherston St protesters were seen climbing onto the trucks trying to stop the barricade.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had been briefed this morning by Police commissioner Andrew Coster about the police operation.
The police are putting barricades around the perimeters and entry points of the protest to stop further growth and further disruption to Wellingtonians, she told RNZ.
She refused to budge on any of their demands, or consider meeting with them, saying the pandemic was top of her mind.
Speaking on TVNZ's Breakfast, Ardern said the measures that protesters are calling to be lifted and removed had helped to keep the country safe during the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Another record number of cases reported yesterday showed how real the situation is, she said.
"That is top of my mind - focusing on the pandemic.
"Now is not the time to pull down our armour and nor will we do it because people are camping on the front lawn."
She said it was not yet known what would happen if the protesters did not leave.
"What is very clear is that there is illegal activity happening here at Parliament," she said.
"People are being disrupted ... is not okay. They need to leave."
Meanwhile Wellington mayor Andy Foster said he had spoken with some protesters, and said the Government needed to "at least" listen to them.
"Most people are perfectly reasonable to talk to and they told me their stories. I think it's useful to know that," he told TVNZ's Breakfast Show.
Foster acknowledged he wanted to see the situation solved without anyone getting hurt.
"We want to get our city back."
Commuters are being told to expect road closures around Parliament and to consider alternative travel routes, while the police traffic management operation is under way.
The railway station is still open and pedestrian foot traffic is not affected.
Police are also increasing their patrols around the schools and train stations, especially before and after school.
One Wellington school has told parents it will be practising its lockdown procedures so children know what to do if there is a physical threat in the school such as a "swarm of bees or an angry dog".
"We practise this in a way they feel comfortable and confident when they hear the special alarm," the school note said.