Coronavirus: British politician sparks 'police state' fears with false claims about NZ's quarantine

A British politician's incorrect claim anyone in New Zealand who has a cold is being forced into "quarantine camps" has triggered a string of equally bizarre claims from his supporters.

David Kurten, a UKIP member who describes himself as Christian, conservative, pro-life and pro-free speech, has complained in the past about having to use contact-tracing tools, equated Wi-Fi routers with microwaves and promoted a medication for COVID-19 which studies have found doesn't work.

On Thursday night (NZ time) he retweeted a video of Director-General of Health  Ashley Bloomfield talking about the Government's new plan to put people with confirmed infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus into managed quarantine facilities, rather than let them self-isolate at home. The extra precaution comes after the first local community transmission of the disease in more than 100 days, the source of which remains a mystery.

The account which tweeted the video originally spreads false claims the virus, which has killed more than three-quarters of a million people to date, is a hoax.

"New Zealand becomes a police state nightmare- quarantine camps for anyone who has a cold, and their families," Kurten wrongly claimed.

Dr Bloomfield on Thursday said the mandatory quarantine will apply to confirmed new cases of COVID-19 and close family members who might be at risk - not anyone with a cold.

"This is different to how positive case were managed when we were last at levels 4 and indeed 3, and shows how serious we are about limiting any risk of ongoing transmission - even in self-isolation and including to others in the household."

Kurten said it was part of a plot by Labour to win the next election. 

"Ardern's Labour Party is at 60%+ in the polls because Kiwis thought her govt. had stopped the Wuhan virus," he said, using a term popular with conservatives particularly in the US, which others have said carries racist connotations. 

"Now it turns out they haven't, they are going quarantine psycho to still try & win. Poor NZ."

Wuhan in China was where the virus was first detected, but its original source remains a mystery, with limited evidence it may have been circulating in Europe as early as last year. In naming the disease, the World Health Organization said it tried to "find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people". The Spanish Flu, for example, was first reported in the US, but amid World War I the only media reports of it came from neutral Spain, so it got unfairly lumped with the name.

Kurten's followers, believing him, chimed in with their thoughts.

"A whistle-blower said recently it is going full out police state," said one person, who has called for mass protests against the UK's lockdown. "This is a practice run, for the rest of the world."

One follower compared the precautionary measures to the Nazi concentration camps for Jews, another called it "totalitarianism" and a third suggested it was a prelude to "experimentation".

Not all of the responses made sense. One said people probably wouldn't be allowed to leave quarantine until they'd had a vaccine - no proven vaccines currently exist, and vaccines are supposed to be administered before infection, not after.

"Do they really think that people are going to put their hand up and say they have Covid-19 if it means being locked up with other people who have it?" said another, not understanding quarantine facilities separate people from one another. One person said the media had failed to report on it, despite commenting on a video of Dr Bloomfield's press conference shot by the media. 

A few brave Kiwis jumped into the thread to defend the Government's strategy. 

"Many of us do actually think that we're going great. For the last three months, we've been living beautifully with no restrictions except international travel, really. There are no camps, they are actually quite nice hotels that you stay in. It's pretty good here," wrote one.

"They're quite fancy hotels, not camps. It's not new for us, they've been around for some months for all NZers returning to the country. We're still pretty chill here," added another.

"They want to ensure NZ doesn't end up like Europe and UK! Preventing this happening!" said a third.

Ashley Bloomfield.
Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

The mandatory quarantine policy has across-the-board support from New Zealand's mainstream political parties - including National, whose leadership team has been accused of stoking conspiracy theories in recent days over when the Government first found out the virus was back in the community.

Shane Reti, National health spokesperson, said his party backs the move. 

"That could be the safest place for you, your family, and your community if you end up positive."

Kiwis with colds might actually get to spend more time at home, with Labour expected to announce a policy of doubling minimum sick leave entitlements to 10 days if it wins the election. 

Kurten is yet to respond to any of the corrections Kiwis have sent him.