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Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

New Zealand’s leading daily newspaper today contrasted the “reckless self-expression” of anti-covid mandates protesters and the dangers confronting the people of Ukraine fighting for their survival as an independent nation in the face of a brutal four-day-old invasion by its neighbour Russia.

Critising the rhetoric by protesters against the so-called “draconian” and “authoritarian” covid-19 rules in this country, the New Zealand Herald today mocked the anti-mandates protest in the Parliament grounds in the capital Wellington entering its third week, saying “attacks on people and their freedom are real and dangerous in a country under Russian assault”.

The newspaper said public gatherings carried extra risk in a pandemic. However, while a rally to draw attention to a desperate invasion far away was “at least understandable, the anti-mandate protests [in Wellington and Auckland] seem to be more about reckless self-expression”.

In an editorial, the paper said “noticing contrasts between two different situations” could provide clarity.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has instantly put claims from a minority of people opposed to covid-19 restrictions around the world in perspective.

“These people have argued that common coronavirus health requirements during the pandemic are attacks on their personal freedom.

“They have talked and written about oppression, coercion and risks over complying with health measures meant to help people survive a frequently deadly and dangerous coronavirus.”

‘Particularly unpersuasive’
Now, said the Herald, these views “sound particularly unpersuasive”.

“As footage and reporting from Ukraine shows, oppression is having armoured vehicles from a neighbouring country roll down your roads.

“Loss of freedom is having to hide in shelters to avoid military strikes from the air or having to walk with your belongings to the border for safety.

“Risk is potentially dying or being injured when your apartment building is hit by a missile.”

What was happening in Ukraine was also what happened in less publicised conflicts around the globe, said The Herald.

“Its harrowing pictures and eyewitness accounts, its timing in the third year of the pandemic, and its unfolding impact, [have] shaken the world.

“Civilians, who if they were elsewhere might be only fighting off a covid infection, are having to handle improvised weapons in Kyiv or join 120,000 others who have already fled to neighbouring countries, according to United Nations estimates.”

Protests against Moscow’s aggression
Protests condemning Moscow’s aggression and expressing support for Ukrainians have taken place in New Zealand and in different countries, including in Russia where almost 3000 people have been arrested.

“In New Zealand, there have been protests against the war at the same time as ongoing demonstrations by people who see vaccination mandates, social distancing, vaccine passports and mask-wearing as an imposition on their rights,” said The Herald.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric with covid-19 of ‘draconian” and ”authoritarian” rules,” said the newspaper.

“In reality, complying with some restrictions for a period of time, which have involved adjusting goals and behaviours and dealing with economic issues, has meant this country has survived a challenging situation pretty well so far compared with others.

“It has hit harder for some groups in society than others. Yet a lot of people are still finding it fairly easy to cope, with vaccination shots, boosters and masks, even with omicron case numbers soaring to dizzying heights and New Zealand’s death toll rising again.”

“Russian citizens know about authoritarianism. On Friday thousands of Russians bravely took to the streets to denounce their government’s invasion.

“Those citizens in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities knew the risk they were taking and at least 2700 have reportedly been arrested.

Mass displays of dissent not tolerated
“President Vladimir Putin’s government does not tolerate mass displays of dissent. Opponents of the regime have been poisoned and killed. The country’s main opposition leader Alexei Navalny is imprisoned.”

“These rebels on Friday had a cause: objecting to war, the violation of a country’s sovereignty and the deaths, hardship, and displacement being inflicted.”

The newspaper said that anti-war rallies and anti-mandate protests took place in New Zealand on Saturday despite omicron cases hitting 13,000 and deaths from the pandemic reaching 56 — far lower than in most other countries.

“Police said officers outside Parliament were spat on. Protesters have been seen ignoring social distancing and avoiding masks and the Ministry of Health said people attending are coming down with covid.

“Hospitals around the country were reporting visits from people who had been at the Parliament site,” said the newspaper.

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