Coronavirus: New Zealand in panic-buying bedlam as police vow crackdown on rowdy supermarket shoppers

The Police Commissioner has promised to crack down on supermarket shoppers who "take things to another level", as panic-buying mayhem erupts in New Zealand amidst more stringent coronavirus measures.

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level would be escalating from level 2 to level 3 - and then again to level 4 within the next 48 hours.

Jacinda Ardern's announcement came after the Ministry of Health revealed New Zealand had 36 new positive cases, taking our total to 102.

The announcements have caused widespread panic-buying, with lines stretching out onto the street at supermarkets and liquor stores in every region across the country.

From the Far North to Southland, shoppers are facing waits in queues of over an hour just to enter supermarkets, with police sent to some locations to ensure things don't get out of hand.

Queues outside the Te Awamutu Countdown and a West Liquor.
Queues outside the Te Awamutu Countdown and a West Liquor. Photo credit: Newshub / Supplied

While panic-buying has occurred after most major announcements by officials on coronavirus, Ardern was at pains to emphasise that supermarkets are deemed an essential service and won't close - even at alert level four.

However that hasn't stopped Kiwis from taking to supermarkets in their droves on Monday afternoon, leaving empty shelves in their wake.

The line outside a Countdown supermarket in Waikato.
The line outside a Countdown supermarket in Waikato. Photo credit: Newshub.

Supermarkets urge Kiwis to only buy what they need

Kiri Hannafin, the Manager of Corporate Affairs for Woolworths and Countdown supermarkets, told RNZ the scenes are "disastrous" and is begging people to stop.

"I am asking New Zealand to please not go to the supermarket, we will be open right through this," she pleaded.

"We will be open every single day to look after you. There is plenty of food in our country.

"Shop normally, do not stockpile... because it will break our supply chain."

Police prepared to take action if needed

Police Commissioner Mike Bush says while police take a "prevention-first philosophy", they're not afraid to take more extreme action if things get out of hand.

"Police will intervene if people are being disrespectful, if they're taking things to another level," he warned in a press conference on Monday afternoon.

"We will be reminding people that if they don't comply, they will endanger other people's lives."