Coronavirus: Infected being abused online, Kiwis ignoring rules by playing sport

While some New Zealanders recklessly flout lockdown rules, others with COVID-19 are being abused on social media, angering authorities. 

Saturday marks day three of New Zealand under alert level 4, which requires Kiwis to remain indoors unless they need essential services or exercise. Gatherings have been banned and people must only interact with those they are isolating with over the four-week period. 

The intense rules have been imposed in an effort to limit community transmission of the highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), which 451 people in New Zealand now have. Numbers are expected to continue to rise for at least a week. Modelling has shown, however, that relaxing lockdown rules could lead to another spike.

As Kiwi get used to the new normal, authorities have two requests: don't abuse those with the virus and don't be stupid and congregate in public places.

Sarah Stuart-Black, the Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, filled in for Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Saturday's daily health update and told reporters that some people were being subject to personal attacks due to having the virus.

"Please be kind to each other. Particularly on social media, we are seeing reports of abuse to people with confirmed COVID-19. There is a high-level of anxiety in the community and it is just not acceptable to be attacking people who have been caught up in the pandemic," she said.

On top of having a potentially grave effect on someone's mental health, the bullying of infected people may have a detrimental impact on the community as others who have symptoms may be discouraged to come forward. The main symptoms for COVID-19 are a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

"We want those with the symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested so we manage this outbreak and recognise the clusters of transmission and stop them from spreading. Please don't make this any harder for people to be able to seek the help that they need to be able to be identified as having COVID-19," Stuart-Black said.

"We need to look out for each other, now more than ever, to unite against COVID-19."

Being kind is one of the key messages laid out on the website. During the lockdown, when many people may be isolated from loved ones and friends, it's important Kiwis continue to check in with each other, potentially via phone or social media. It's fine to chat to neighbours over the fence as long as they remain two metres apart. 

Maintaining physical distancing will be crucial in limiting exposure to the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs. However, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some studies have suggested that on some materials it could be for days.

John Ombler, the All of Government Controller, told reporters on Saturday that what people shouldn't be doing is gathering with others in public places and playing sport.

"I have heard today that some people were playing touch rugby and frisbee in parks, that's just stupid. People need to stop doing that sort of thing. COVID can transfer on a frisbee from one person to another. With touch rugby, it is quite obvious. Please, don't do it. Don't be stupid," he said.

Ombler also said people shouldn't be leaving their neighbourhoods unless it is absolutely necessary. That reminder is necessary as New Zealand enters the first lockdown weekend.

"We don't want people congregating at parks and beaches. Keep to the two metres rule. It is really important. Don't go swimming or surfing. A walk along the local beach is fine but don't do anything that may result in you needing help, if you end up getting into trouble," he said.

"This weekend is very different. It is important for everyone to stay home and save lives, New Zealanders and visitors alike. You might be tempted to leave the house, but you can only leave home for essential reasons and for physical exercise by yourself or with the other people in your house. Stick to your bubble."

He also provided an update on the police response to the lockdown. During the period, officers will have an increased presence in the community to ensure compliance. That includes questioning some drivers, breaking up any gatherings and keeping order at essential services.

Those not complying will initially be given advice about the new rules, but if people persistently break them, there will be consequences, such as being arrested and detained. So far, most people have been behaving.

"Most people, in [police's] view, are following the new rules. There have been some isolated incidents of people congregating and in these situations, people were spoken to and provided with advice on what the restrictions mean," Ombler said.

Of New Zealand's 451 cases, of which 416 are confirmed and 35 are probable, most have links to overseas travel, cases within households, close contacts or clusters of cases. Those clusters being investigated include at Marist College, a Queenstown World Hereford Conference, and a group who travelled to the United States.

There are nearly 600,000 cases of the illness worldwide, with just under 28,000 deaths. 

What we know about coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • not eating shared or communal food
  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

An explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here. Full information can also be found at

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.