A security expert is warning business owners to properly secure their premises as he predicts crime will rise during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
All non-essential businesses must now close after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that New Zealand was under alert level 3, the "restrict" stage of fighting the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. Aotearoa currently has 102 cases of the virus, with two likely to be the result of community transmission.
On Wednesday night, the country will move to level 4, the top-level, which locks down the nation and requires everyone to stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go out.
During the lockdown, which is expected to last at least four weeks, police will be assisted by the defence force in ensuring compliance. Alongside the Summary Offences Act, which sets out offences like disorderly behaviour, assault and vandalism, police will be enforcing the Public Health Act.
Security expert John Borland told The AM Show that police are empowered to "use reasonable, necessary force to assist medical staff of health in order to prevent the spread of the disease".
However, as this will take time away from officers, he expects criminals will see an opportunity.
"We all just need to be sensible and police are going to be hamstrung as it is because they don't have enough numbers to be doing this as crime is going to rise. Criminals are going to see an opportunity here," he said.
"In term of having to control that lockdown, police are also going to have to respond to situations of crime, so it is going to be really tough time for the New Zealand Police.
"You can't rule anything out. What we know from history, and we should always rely on history, opportunity presents itself and criminals are opportunists."
Borland warned that businesses should take the time before the lockdown comes into place to make sure their premises are secure and that items of value cannot be easily stolen.
"Whilst a lot of SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are going to be bunkering down and going home, their businesses, their commercial premises are going to be exposed to loss," he said.
"So my message out there, today, before they do go into lockdown if they can, is to remove anything that is easily removed so small items that are valuable that are going to be easily stolen, stolen for cash."
Outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush said on Monday that there would be an increased police presence. He also acknowledged that in other countries with lockdowns, domestic violence had increased as people were shut up together for extended periods of time. He said this would remain a focus for police.
While police would focus on educating the public about the restrictions, Bush said officers would detain those not complying with the restrictions.
"The way I put it is, you're better to stay on the comfort of your own couch of your own home than be cooling yourself on a very cool bench in a police cell," he said.
"If people don't do as they're directed, we'll be out there, and we'll be ensuring that people are complying, because they need to be. This is about saving lives."
There are currently more than 360,000 cases of the virus worldwide, with 16,000 people having died.
What we know about coronavirus
The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 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.
The virus 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 viruses can remain active for days.
"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.
The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.