Police in New Zealand have been required to enforce crowd control measures at a popular fast food outlet after large numbers of people rushed to buy burgers following a relaxing of the country’s lockdown measures on Tuesday.
New Zealand, which has reported 1,474 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and 19 deaths, spent almost five weeks under a strict, level four lockdown. The country eased into level three restrictions on Tuesday, meaning some children could go back to school and 400,000 people were able to go back to work.
But for many, it was a chance to finally eat the fast food they had been craving. Under level three restrictions, a limited number of restaurants and cafes have been permitted to reopen. According to TVNZ, that resulted in long queues of cars at KFC and McDonald’s drive-thrus outlets throughout Auckland, the country’s biggest city.
And at a burger joint in Auckland, the crowds were so large that the police were called.
“We were called to a small number of incidents last night where people weren’t adhering to social distancing,” a police spokesperson said, adding that one was in Glenfield on Auckland’s North Shore. “There was a large group congregating, police attended and education was given to ensure a better and safer process.”
A spokesperson for BurgerFuel confirmed on Wednesday that police were called to the fastfood chain’s Glenfield outlet, and added that police had been very helpful with controlling the large crowd.
“Day one of re-opening saw our BurgerFuel stores inundated with a stampede of customers, way beyond what we had anticipated,” the spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.
BurgerFuel will now only take orders online, and all outlets will have to have a crowd controller at the store, the spokesperson said.
The police spokesperson said they received another call where a person was concerned that the road was blocked with traffic to get into a drive-thru. “Our call taker had to inform them that, that was in fact the queue,” the spokesperson said.
On Wednesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that officials had been in contact with the head office of BurgerFuel to ensure they understand their obligations.
“They certainly didn’t fulfill those obligations last night,” she said.
She said police had recorded 104 breaches in the first 18 hours of the level four rules being lifted. There had also been 742 complaints of businesses not complying, with most of the complaints relating to a lack of social distancing measures being in place.
Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff also urged people to continue to follow social distancing rules, especially in regard to restaurants.
“I know everyone is excited to return to some kind of normalcy with things like takeaways, coffee and some physical activities, but I am concerned about the lack of social distancing we are seeing,” he said in a statement. “We need to keep going for a little while longer.”
Under current social distancing measures, the New Zealand government advises citizens to keep a 2 meter (6.5 foot) distance from people while outside.