Mass gathering not a bubble: police boss

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A hostel in Queenstown has implemented stricter lockdown measures after police were called to reports of a large party at the weekend.

Police attended Deco Backpackers in Lake St about 5.45pm on Sunday, where 60 people were said to have held a party, and “spoke to occupants about the Alert Level 4 requirements” a spokesperson said.

During the daily coronavirus news conference, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said this afternoon that it was “very poor advice” for the backpackers to have decided they were all in one bubble.

He said it was clearly a “mass gathering”, which went against the lockdown rules.

Deco Backpackers, which backs onto Rotary Park, posted a statement on its Facebook page saying management were “distressed and saddened” at the incident.

The hostel said it had organically become long-term worker accommodation and guests had been together for “an extended period of time and were in their own bubble”.

Management refuted suggestions that it was a party, saying long-term guests were enjoying the weather with drinks in the backyard that spilled over “slightly” into the park.

“We acknowledge that they were being irresponsible, but in their eyes, they were doing nothing wrong. They were sticking to their bubble.”

The hostel owners admitted it was their responsibility to ensure guests followed the lockdown rules and promised a firmer hand in future.

“We had measures in place, they were broken, and after becoming aware about the gathering and resultant police callout, we began changes immediately.”

Parties were already banned, curfews were in place and guests were expected to clean.

The hostel said it would report any guests not following lockdown rules to appropriate authorities.

“We are as concerned and disappointed as all of your are. This situation is under control and is being handled by the proper authorities.”

Management said no members of the public were present.

Otago Daily Times readers online called for tough fines and deportation after the story was first reported earlier today.

Since Thursday of last week, New Zealand has been at alert level 4 for Covid-19, with severe restrictions on what people can do.

Everyone is required to stay home, except to exercise locally or to visit or work in essential services such as supermarkets.

Under the rules, backpacker accommodation is considered an essential service and can remain open.

However, the Government has specified that hostels and campgrounds must operate under very strict protocols – such as maintaining contact only between people in the same room, the closure of common social and recreation areas, and split shift access to common areas.

Hundreds of people have been dobbed in for flouting lockdown rules in the four days since it began, while a new police website set up to report breaches has been swamped.

Police said in the first two days of the lockdown they had been called to deal with breaches including reports of Covid-19 parties.

Before the lockdown, the Government had already imposed a two-week self-isolation period for anyone entering New Zealand. However, concerns were raised about what this meant for tourists, who have limited accommodation options for self-quarantine.

Several tourists have been arrested and were to be deported for refusing to self-isolate correctly.

Otago Daily Times and NZ Herald