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Coronavirus: PM, police Covid-19 warning – don’t go to your bach this Easter

Thinking of heading to your holiday for the Easter long weekend?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and police have a message for you – don’t even think about it.

With many holiday spots temptingly within a few hours drive of main cities, locals and councils mooted road blockades to stop people entering their towns and regions, but whether police would be given the power to do so, even under a state of emergency, appears up for debate.

Two police officers at a checkpoint for “traffic compliance” at the bottom of the Kopu-Hikuai hill, Coromandel.

Suggestions are that in Akaroa, a popular harbour getaway near Christchurch, people have already slipped through.

In beachy Northland, where locally-manned checkpoints stopped tourists entering at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, police confirmed they would now be patrolling the roads to ensure compliance.

Akaroa is a popular destination for Christchurch holidaymakers, but anyone wanting to head to their bach during lockdown this weekend is not welcome.

Councils on the South Island’s West Coast are looking at whether Civil Defence powers can be used to legally block roads.

New Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told The AM Show the police would not be holding back.

“We have … the power to arrest and we can charge for breach of the Health Notice. We’ve taken a pretty gentle approach up to this point but people have had a long time now to understand what the powers are, and so we are prepared to take enforcement action if people are deliberately flouting the rules,” he said.

Hanmer Springs’ locals say they have not seen an influx of people travelling to their holiday homes.

“And we will be out in high visibility, patrolling. We will use checkpoints in some places,” Coster told The AM Show.

“Our message to people is ‘stay home’. We’ve put too much into this to compromise it by trying to get away for a holiday weekend,” he said.

The Health Notice issued by Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield setting out the lockdown rules required people to stay in the residence where they had been living.

In Akaroa, Sergeant Tim Johnson posted to the local police Facebook page on Tuesday there were reports of bach owners arriving in the Banks Peninsula settlement.

While that information was unconfirmed, anyone doing so was clearly breaching the rules of the level 4 lockdown. “Everyone should stay at home,” he posted.

Long-time Akaroa resident Victoria Andrews said she had seen several individuals in the past few days who had arrived recently to enjoy their holiday homes.

About 90 people are staying in Castle Hill in Canterbury, including a number choosing to self-isolate in the village.

“If the quarantine is going to work then everybody has to observe it and whether or not you are wealthy enough to have a second or third holiday home is irrelevant.”

“It endangers the whole quarantine system for people to drive 70km over here for the weekend. I can’t drive 70km to go to the New World in Christchurch and I would very much love to.”

Andrews was concerned additional people would put pressure on town food supplies and could endanger the town’s fragile health system.

A cruise ship in port at Akaroa harbour before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown.

She had talked to a fellow resident who said the police should put a road block at Cooptown and only allow people with good reasons to pass. Andrews supported that move but only if the police and Government believed it was warranted.

Johnson said police had no plans to cut road access to Akaroa. “We can’t at this stage, there’s no legislation in place for us to close it off,” he said.

However, a Civil Defence spokesman said during a state of emergency local controllers and police could restrict public access by blocking roads under the Health Act.

The view from Conical Hill, in Hanmer Springs will be for locals only this Easter weekend.

The Grey and Westland councils have asked Civil Defence to set up checkpoints on the four highways to stop people travelling into the region, which has four confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, as well as the first death.

Westland mayor Bruce Smith said there concerns Easter weekend would be “out of control” with people trying to enter, as it was peak hunting season due to the roar (or red deer mating season) and a good time of year for fishing.

Grey mayor Tania Gibson said she had heard reports of people driving to Moana holiday homes under the cover of darkness, or driving to Haast to hunt.

In Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury, police have not encountered people travelling there during the lockdown. People who had arrived from out of town did so before it started.

Highway patrol officers stationed along State Highway 7 noted that there had not been heavy traffic in recent days.

In Castle Hill, Civil Defence emergency response team leader Ray Goldring had not seen any evidence of anyone sneaking up to the village. Goldring did a census of the village on the first day of lockdown, finding 91 people were staying there in eight houses.

He said that number had changed slightly because people had been using their holiday homes to self isolate if they had come into contact with someone with the virus.

When asked at a media conference on Tuesday about people travelling to holiday homes over Easter, Ardern said the same rules around staying local applied.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said everyone needed to have a staycation. Ardern added it would be a “long staycation”.

– Reporting by Sam Sherwood, Tina Law, Michael Hayward, Lee Kenny and Stuff’s gallery team

Credit: Stuff

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