2 Mar 2021

Covid-19: Unclear whether lockdown rule-breakers will face investigation

8:17 am on 2 March 2021

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield is "reluctant" to refer those in the Papatoetoe cluster who breached lockdown restrictions to police.

A Covid-19 testing centre in Otara.

A Covid-19 testing centre in Ōtara. Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

It has been revealed one of the latest cases, the mother in the fourth family, had gone for a walk with the mother of another family identified in the Papatoetoe cluster during a level 3 lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was clearly not happy with the rule breaches during yesterday's post-Cabinet media conference.

"It is not appropriate and it is not okay for members of the team of five million to let the rest of us down," she said.

Ardern said it was not for her or other politicians to decide whether rule-breakers should face fines or prosecution, but rather the police.

She urged the public to call out those they see breaking the rules, but to remain kind when doing so.

"It's saying a family member who you know should be isolating don't go out, or saying to a colleague who turns up to work when they should be isolating or awaiting a Covid test result, go home."

Dr Bloomfield told Morning Report taking a prosecutorial approach, and potentially taking people to court, can deter people from coming forward for testing. "That clearly is not in anyone's interests."

"It would require referral from me... I would need to be convinced it would be a useful thing to do rather than counterproductive," he said.

"I can't imagine the stress these people feel at the moment. In fact I saw a story this morning they are feeling the weight of the nation on their shoulders."

National Party Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop said Ardern's comments were deflecting from a system failure.

"We should be checking on people, we should be doing spot checks, we should be making sure people are where they say they are and we should be enforcing sanctions and consequences for people who are breaking those rules," he said.

Bishop said he expected to see consequences for those in this instance who had clearly broken the rules.

Police say they have not begun an investigation into rule breaches in the Papatoetoe High School Covid-cluster. In a statement, they said that when people did not comply with orders from health officials to self-isolate, police may investigate when referred relevant information by the Ministry of Health.

"At this stage, we have not received referrals and we continue to focus on working with individuals, whānau and communities to support them to isolate and be tested.

"Police will continue to work with Public Health as we have to date, including to assist finding people who should be isolating and who prove difficult to find," it said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the lockdown was frustrating for event organisers, businesses and members of the public but he did not favour prosecution.

"The women did the wrong thing. They won't be the only ones in the community that have done that and they'll be feeling a huge amount of social pressure that their action inadvertently has led to the spread of the community transmission.

"I'm sure they deeply regret that, I'm not sure that a prosecution at this point would really achieve a great deal," he said.

Goff said being too heavy handed could put others off getting tested or giving information, if they knew they had broken the rules.

ACT leader David Seymour agreed, but said the government should be doing more to detect rule-breaking in the first place.

"I'm talking about digital contact tracing, we should have had it, more rapid testing such as saliva testing, we should have had it, I'm talking cellphone triangular, as they use in Taiwan to enforce isolation, we should have had it.

"At the moment we have trust but verify, but at the moment it's all trust and no verify."

If police do choose to prosecute, it will be far from the first time they have intervened with rule-breakers.

Since March 2020, 834 people have been prosecuted, 5587 warned and there have been 260 youth referrals for Covid-19 related offences.

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