Ardern Urges Calm as Some Flout New Zealand Lockdown

Tracy Withers

(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand is less than a week into a nationwide lockdown and already tempers are flaring as some, including tourists, flout the rules.

Police said a website set up Sunday for complaints about people or businesses failing to abide by the strict new regime crashed when it was overwhelmed by 4,200 notifications. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been forced to clarify what people are allowed to do during the unprecedented four-week period of self-isolation aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

“Remember, people are allowed to go for a walk around the block,” she said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “But if you hear, for instance, a party on your street that you’re worried about,” then report it, she said.

Since the lockdown began at midnight on March 25, local media have reported groups of people failing to comply by partying, playing rugby in local parks or heading out surfing. New Zealand, which has 589 cases and recorded its first Covid-19 death Sunday, is trying to keep almost everyone at home to halt community transmission.

It joins nations around the world struggling to enforce lockdowns that are affecting millions of households. The Italian government gave police powers to seize vehicles as thousands have been charged for flouting social isolation rules. In the U.K., officers are empowered to issue spot fines and erect checkpoints to deter rule breakers.

While New Zealand city streets are almost deserted, there has been a surge of whistle-blowing on non-essential businesses still operating or people who are apparently defying the lockdown.

On occasion tempers have flared. A family walking on an Auckland beach near their home at the weekend was abused by a passerby even though they were entitled to be there, the New Zealand Herald reported. People from the same household -- quaintly termed a “bubble” -- are able to exercise locally, the government has said.

Tourists Scolded

The vast majority “are complying brilliantly” and some “are very passionate to ensure that others comply,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said at a news conference Monday in Wellington, adding there have been three arrests for persistent non-compliance.

“We have, for example, tourists who think it’s okay to drive around the country in their campervans,” Bush said. “It’s not okay, stay absolutely put.”

Maritime authorities are urging people to stay off the water because of the risk of needing to be rescued, while mountain-bike tracks and children’s playgrounds are closed.

Ardern was particularly concerned about reports of young people gathering together now that schools and universities are shuttered.

“They are putting at risk their grandparents and others’ grandparents and people that they love,” she said.

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