So many New Zealanders have reported their neighbours to the authorities for breaking lockdown rules that a new police website to record such incidents crashed.
More than 2,000 people rang an emergency police line last week to report rule-breakers. As a result, a dedicated website was set up in the hope it would dissuade them from ringing 111.
But since going live on Sunday the website has crashed at least once due to high demand, and registered more than 4,000 reports of bad behaviour – including people playing rugby or frisbee, and holding impromptu “corona parties”.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said the “vast majority” of New Zealanders were complying with lockdown rules, and were “passionate and determined” to make others toe the line as well.
Three people had been detained for ignoring the rules, and one person remained in police custody, Bush said. Campervans with tourists travelling the country has been a persistent problem and it was “concerning” to see hundreds of people out on Wellington waterfront – an issue that may need further attention, the commissioner warned.
Although some incidents have warranted genuine police attention – such as bonfires at Muriwai beach and backpacker parties in Queenstown – other reported incidents were not a problem, including joggers and dog-walkers sticking to their own neighbourhoods – exercise that has been sanctioned by the prime minister.
A police spokesperson said: “Not every one of these over 4,000 reports will result in a visit from police. For example, some are reports of people jogging or walking past. People are of course allowed to do this within their own neighbourhoods. We have been attending where there are large groups of people congregating.”
However, there remains confusion and debate as to what activities are permitted under lockdown, with some people under the impression that they cannot leave their homes under any circumstances, while others are continuing to walk, surf, run and play golf.
“You need to stay in your bubble,” a man screamed at an Auckland woman and her family on Browns Bay beach over the weekend, in a video posted online. “You’re putting everyone at risk.”
The family screamed back that they were walking only with people from their “bubble” and the activity was allowed, but the woman said the incident had terrified her three children.
“There’s no chance that we’ll get our three boys to the beach again for a family walk, absolutely none,” she said.
Many New Zealanders reported similar instances of verbal abuse while out and about in their neighbourhood, and some say community Facebook pages had become full of abuse and threats.
John Ombler, who is co-ordinating the government’s response to the crisis, said some outdoor activity was permitted, and Ardern had also repeatedly endorsed the need for “fresh air” during the four-week lockdown.
“You can leave the house for physical exercise by yourself or with other members of your household, stick to your bubble,” Ombler said. “By all means, go for a short walk or run in your neighbourhood.”
The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, a charity, said on its website the lockdown was “scary” for many people: “It’s a tense time for most of us”.
A numbers of District Health Boards (DHBs) around the country have also issued pleas for New Zealanders to stop abusing confirmed Covid-19 cases online.
Hawke’s Bay DHB said it was “unacceptable” and people needed to show calm and restraint. “We understand there is a high level of anxiety in the community, but it is not acceptable to attack people who have been caught up in this pandemic,” said Hawke’s Bay medical officer Nick Jones.
New Zealand has 589 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and a number of “clusters” had begun to emerge, the prime minister said, including from an Auckland pub, a wedding and a recent conference.
Ardern announced a new website on Monday for Kiwis to report incidents of “price gouging” by supermarkets.
Cabinet met for the first time ever by Zoom on Monday, Ardern said, and she had been heartened that more than 6000 medical professionals had volunteered to come out of retirement and fight the virus.