1 Mar 2021

National wants Covid-19 rule-breakers to be punished 'so others don't do it as well'

9:02 am on 1 March 2021

The National Party wants Covid-19 rule-breakers to be slapped with tough sanctions after Auckland was plunged back into lockdown over the weekend.

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop says people aren't following the rules because there are no sanctions. Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

Multiple people in the February cluster have flouted the self-isolation directives: the latest, a 21-year-old who visited numerous locations while potentially infectious.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced health officials would work with police to keep tabs on those who'd been instructed to isolate.

National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said that was a good move, but the government needed to go further.

He told RNZ New Zealand's "high-trust model" was starting to break down and a new approach was called for.

"It is time to start knocking on people's doors and making sure that when people are meant to be isolating for two weeks, they actually are doing so.

"And if they're not, let's appropriately punish them and make sure people know about that so other people don't do it as well."

Offenders should be fined, Bishop said.

"People haven't felt the pressure to follow the rules because there are no sanctions."

"Other countries have faced similar problems," he told Morning Report. "Taiwan does have strict requirements around self-isolation and the key point there is they actually go and check and that's not really what's happening at the moment...

"We should be going to check up on those people, we should be calling them, we should be knocking on their door, and potentially looking at video-conferencing them."

Bishop said the priority now was identifying cases within the community and eliminating the virus.

"We said on February 17 it was a big call to take Auckland out of level-3 and go down to level 2... but what's really important now is we focus on identifying and getting around this cluster as quickly as possible."

He said there was a need to roll-out rapid antigen testing and waste-water testing, which he said was a cheap and fast way of identifying cases within the community during a lockdown. It would be particularly useful in South Auckland.

But Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said any punitive approach could backfire.

"The last thing we want to do is create an environment where those who've broken the rules don't come forward for testing or mislead the contact tracers about where they've been or who they've been with.

"We really need people to cooperate to get through this."

Siouxsie Wiles

Dr Siouxsie Wiles says a punitive approach could backfire. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Wiles said the public should also try to understand the reasons why people might not isolate.

"There might be those who have fallen for all of the disinformation circulating around social media," she said.

"We might be misplacing our anger."

ACT leader David Seymour said government complacency was to blame for the latest lockdown and the rule-breakers were a convenient scapegoat.

"I'm disappointed the prime minister has tried to oh-so-subtly deflect on to this one person," Seymour said.

"He does deserve some blame. He was clearly a naughty boy, but he does not deserve to take the whole rap."

Seymour said the government had allowed the virus back into the community and was not able to contain it quickly enough.

He agreed with Wiles that cracking down on rule-breakers could be counter-productive and suggested closer monitoring instead.

"In Taiwan, they use cellphone tower triangulation to locate people and they check up on you if you go to the wrong place."