250 reports of illegal mass gatherings in the four days since NZ shifted to alert level 2

coronavirus 18/05/2020

By Matt Burrows of Newshub

There have been 250 reports of illegal mass gatherings in the four days since alert level 2 came into effect, the Police Commissioner has revealed - but just one person has been prosecuted as a result.

Speaking to media on Monday, Andrew Coster said parties at private premises were held throughout New Zealand over the weekend, "but not at levels we've seen on previous weekends".

He said police have recorded 30 breaches from Kiwis holding or attending parties - 29 of which resulted in a warning, and one in a prosecution.

"We continue to take an enforcement approach led by education, encouragement and engagement," Coster said.

The total number of breach reports since alert level 2 kicked off is 983, for a daily average of 245 - a far cry from the "700 to 1000" reports a day the Commissioner says they received during level 3.

Despite far-reaching enforcement measures available to police under the newly established COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill - in particular warrantless entry to private properties - police have not used them to enter any premises, Coster says.

In fact he insists police powers have actually "narrowed" since the state of national emergency came to an end last week, and has ordered all officers to contact New Zealand Police headquarters before executing a warrantless power of entry.

There is also an obligation to inform the Commissioner if any officers use power of entry to access a private property.

"Powers do exist for other things like serious offending, drug offending and noise control - but we can't generally enter a property if the occupants deny us entry," Coster says.

"A search warrant is an option we can use… but it stands to reason that a one to two-hour delay for police to sort out a mass gathering would be unacceptable, and likely increase the health risk of that gathering continuing."

There have also been reported breaches from about 700 Kiwi businesses, the Police Commissioner says, following a large number of complaints relating to the absence of contract tracing systems and social distancing protocols.

However he says distancing breaches are now "settling down", and reminded Kiwis that contract tracing for customers of retail businesses is not a requirement.