Coronavirus: Police report 2729 breaches of lockdown rules, won't hesitate to take enforcement action

In the little over three weeks since New Zealand's lockdown began, there have been more than 2700 breaches of the strict nationwide rules.

On the evening of March 25, in response to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand moved to alert level 4, imposing an array of tough requirements on Kiwis to limit the virus' spread. Those included instructing people to remain at their residences unless they were heading out for essential services or exercise, and also closing non-essential businesses.

While compliance overall has been relatively high, there have been some breaching the rules, particularly by driving around when they shouldn't be.

New figures from the police reveal that there have been 2729 breaches of the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Act and the Health Act since the lockdown began. Those two pieces of legislation enable the enforcement of the lockdown and provide powers not usually available to authorities. 

Of those breaches, there have been 294 prosecutions, 2361 warnings, and 74 youth referrals. Specifically in relation to the CDEM Act, there have been 39 prosecutions, 432 warnings and 17 youth referrals, while 255 prosecutions, 1929 warnings and 57 youth referrals relate to the Health Act. 

On Saturday, it emerged that a 38-year-old Whanganui man has been jailed for repeatedly breaking the rules. He was verbally warned by police on five separate occasions about the lockdown requirements and then found a sixth time some distance from his home and without any valid reason. He'll be in prison for a month.

"Our first step has been to educate people on the rules, but if people continue to break them as in this case, police can use their discretion to warn people, or if necessary arrest them," Central District Commander Supt Chris de Wattingnar said.

Other breaches reported by police over the lockdown period include people spitting at others and people trying to move houses. Over the Easter period, police set up a number of checkpoints around the country to stop anyone driving out of their local area for a holiday and had to turn many around.

While details of alert level 3 were revealed by the Prime Minister on Thursday, the country will remain under the lockdown until at least Thursday next week. A decision about whether to lift or extend the restrictions will be made on Monday. The details were released to provide Kiwis, including parents and businesses, time to understand changes to the rules.

But there are also concerns that some believe the release of the alert level 3 details means New Zealand has transitioned to the new phase. 

"Information about what may come next is not an invitation to adopt those level 3 measures yet," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday.

Auckland Police on Friday night said they have "noticed an increased amount of traffic on our roads today and more people out and about in the community". 

"Our communities have done an incredible job of staying in their bubbles but we must remember that we have to continue to do this while alert level 4 restrictions remain in place," police said.

"Police will remain highly visible over the weekend and there will continue to be a number of checkpoints across Auckland including rurally and in the suburbs.

"We will not hesitate to take enforcement action through warnings or arrests if we need to."