30 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Northland checkpoint remains with police help

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 30 April 2020

An iwi roadblock north of Whangārei remains in place under level three, with volunteers reporting huge increases in traffic.

As questions remain over the legality of such checkpoints, some drivers are not happy about being vetted by masked volunteers, but there has also been a lot of support.

Dressed head to toe in PPE, and with the help of police and traffic management, about six local iwi volunteers are checking each driver on state highway 1 at the Waiomio hill. 

Traffic has increased exponentially since the Aotearoa moved to level 3 restrictions, the iwi members told Checkpoint

They say they will remain working at the checkpoint until Covid-19 is eliminated. 

"We get racial responses, we're 'not the police', who are we to be speaking to them... As we say, we're just advising people that we're trying to keep the north safe, make people aware of Covid-19 that's going around, and limit people coming through." 

He told Checkpoint essential workers get through with the paperwork that all essential workers need to be operating under level 3 restrictions. 

Fellow volunteer John Tautari said on Monday 220 vehicles came through the checkpoint. "We turned 21 of those back.

"Yesterday there were about 670 cars that came in and out." 

Drivers are asked where they are from and where they are going. The volunteers say mostly they see essential workers and people moving bubbles to reconnect with their families. 

Despite criticism from some drivers, Whangārei Police Sergeant John Larkin said the checkpoints are in place for good reason. 

"As I've seen it's been pretty positive. There are some negative people however the guys on the line here from the iwi around the place, they're passing on that information, to keep our community safe," he said.

"I think it's great," one driver told Checkpoint. "We have to be able to monitor where we're going and what we're doing. 

"I think if we have these checkpoints it brings us back to reality. Keeps the discipline going. It's good work."

Other drivers said it was good to know why people are moving around and to keep people safe.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it is not legal for any member of the public to stop or prohibit the movement of others, but the police are able to do that. 

"Where we've had community checkpoints in some cases they've been information sharing, it hasn't necessarily been prohibiting travel. 

"Where they have been cropping up we have had police working alongside those checkpoints to make sure what's happening is legal and safe." 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the checkpoints were initiated by communities to enforce restrictions the government had put in place. Police had discouraged the independent checkpoints under level 4, but have now regularised them with police presence.

"We are present and we are responsible for them," he told Checkpoint

"We're there because these communities have responded with a particular sense of fear based on history about their vulnerability to this virus.

"We do not see a need for these checkpoints to continue into level 2, and we were very clear that will not be happening.

"We have had a massive reduction. Through the level 4 period we believe roughly 30 to 50 checkpoints popped up in different locations. We now have 10 or fewer." 

On Tuesday, the first day of lockdown level 3 rules, Debbie Ngarewa Packer of Ngāti Ruanui told Checkpoint of the 40 people who passed through her local checkpoint at Patea in Taranaki, just 12 had a valid reason.

"We've had a few international travellers that weren't aware of the full details of level 3, and thought they could go around and holiday again."

She said she has not had people angry about the checkpoints, but rather people have appreciated the support for the region, and their work helping those who have not understood the level 3 lockdown rules.  

"It all depends on the spirit and the intent of it. The spirit and intent is to work with everyone else. We're lucky we've got the police here."