New Zealand police arrest men smuggling KFC into city in COVID-19 lockdown

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New Zealand police have arrested two men caught trying to smuggle a car-boot full of KFC chicken and tens of thousands of dollars into a its largest city which is under strict COVID-19 lockdown.

Auckland, a city of two million, is under strict restrictions as authorities remain committed to eliminating a delta-variant outbreak.

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The men were charged with breaching the country’s tough COVID-19 rules, the BBC reported

New Zealand imposed a nationwide lockdown on August 17 when the first case of the highly transmissible delta variant was found in the community.

The cluster has been concentrated in Auckland and the rest of the country moved out of lockdown earlier this month.

Under Auckland’s strict Level 4 lockdown, all restaurants, including take-away services, remain closed.

Police said the men, aged 23 and 30, had traveled from Hamilton, about 75 miles south of Auckland.

A police spokesperson told the BBC that officers made the arrest after they noticed a suspicious looking vehicle traveling on a gravel road on the outskirts of the city.

“Upon seeing the police car, the vehicle did a u-turn and sped off trying to evade police,” they said. “The vehicle was searched and police located the cash, alongside empty ounce bags and a large amount of takeaways.”

Police photos showed at least three buckets of chicken, about 10 cups of coleslaw, a large package of fries, and four large bags containing other KFC items.

They also seized NZ$100,000 (US$70,000) in cash.

It is unclear whether the men intended to sell the food or if they hoped to use it as a distraction if they were to be pulled over.

The spokesperson said that the men would appear in court later in the year for breaching public health rules but added that further charges are also likely. The investigation is ongoing.

New Zealand is pursuing a “COVID zero” elimination strategy – which has resulted in just 27 deaths in a population of five million.

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The country had been free of community cases for six months before the August outbreak, with residents enjoying a near-normal domestic life alongside tight restrictions on international borders.

But tough COVID-19 rules mean the pair now face heavy punishments. For breaking coronavirus curbs, authorities can impose a costly fine and even prison sentences of up to six months.

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