New Zealand increases fines for COVID-19 rule breakers

People venture out as COVID-19 curbs eases in most regions

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand on Friday announced higher fines of up to NZ$12,000 ($8,400) for individuals breaching coronavirus restrictions amid concerns that the current outbreak may spread beyond Auckland to other regions due to people breaking rules.

“Our success has been really based on the fact that people by and large have been compliant,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference.

“However, there has been the odd person that has broken the rules and put others at risk,” she said.

A person who intentionally fails to comply with a COVID-19 order, such as travelling without permission, will have committed a criminal offence and is now liable on conviction for a fine of up to NZ$12,000, up from NZ$4,000, or six months imprisonment. Fines for companies can go up to NZ$15,000.

On-the-spot fines for infringement offences like failing to wear a mask where it is mandatory will be increased to NZ$4,000 for individuals from NZ$300 previously. If the matter goes to court, the court can impose a fine of up to NZ$12,000.

The changes will take effect in November, subject to the passing of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill.

New Zealand reported 14 new cases on COVID-19 on Tuesday, which compares with an earlier daily case peak of more than 80 cases in August. The number of cases in the current outbreak now totals 1,085.

The country was largely virus-free this year until August's Delta variant outbreak in Auckland led to a full lockdown. Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, remains in lockdown although restrictions have been eased in the rest of the country.

Ardern's tough lockdowns and international border closures helped rein in COVID-19, but her government has been criticised for a slow vaccination rollout. The government has made efforts to ramp up its vaccine drive with purchases of additional vaccine doses from Spain and Denmark.

($1 = 1.4233 New Zealand dollars)

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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