A rumour New Zealand will enter lockdown on January 15 has been slammed as false by the All-of-Government COVID-19 Response Group after the untrue claims circulated on social media.
The rumours appeared to start spreading at the beginning of January. On Twitter, one person claimed the "NZ script" of what will happen is that the "mutant strain", presumably meaning the new United Kingdom and South Africa variant, will arrive on Aotearoa's shores and there will "be a quarantine breach".
"NZ expected to be back in full lockdown January 15," they added.
Another person claimed New Zealand was "still on track" for the supposed January 15 lockdown after a COVID-19 scare at the Hamilton District Court. A border worker showing symptoms of the virus visited the court and it was put into lockdown for a brief time.
But these rumours are untrue, the COVID-19 Response Group says, and a shift in alert levels to trigger a lockdown "is not something the Government would ever plan weeks in advance".
"An alert level change is a careful decision made by a group of ministers or Cabinet, after advice from senior officials including the Director-General of Health, in the event of community transmission," they said.
There is currently no community transmission of COVID-19 in New Zealand, according to the latest update from the Ministry of Health on Monday, and all 77 active cases were found in returning passengers and these people are now in quarantine facilities.
"Some of the considerations made when providing the advice are: whether the case is isolated, the risk of transmission based on their movement, case history, symptom onset and severity and the source of infection. The restrictions under whichever alert level is decided are then determined by the Minister of Health."
Social media has been used to peddle misinformation about COVID-19 in New Zealand since the virus arrived here. As such, it's forced officials to address any false rumours to correct the record and encourage Kiwis to get their information from official sources.
"Conspiracy theories abound on social media, online and via word of mouth. They are usually at odds with official information. They cause us to doubt our public health authorities and other figures of government," the COVID-19 Response Group spokesperson says.
"We're continuing to see organised campaigns that are designed to confuse and to sow doubt about our response to COVID-19. While everybody has a right to be sceptical and hold their own views, equally everybody has a right to be safe. If the information cannot be verified, please think twice before sharing or passing it on."
Officials were forced to address "leaked" plans in October after rumours circulated that New Zealand was going into lockdown in early November. One person falsely claimed the Ministry of Health was "preparing for a third wave" that was "predicted to hit November 6 or 8", but this never happened.
A COVID-19 Response Group spokesperson shut down this rumour and gave similar advice on being vigilant with what people believe and share online.