27 Jan 2021

Northland Covid-19 checkpoints to go ahead without police

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 27 January 2021

As health officials investigate two new possible cases of Covid-19 linked to the Pullman Hotel, community-run Covid-19 checkpoints will be operating in Northland from Thursday, without police support.

Former MP Hone Harawira organised the Far North Covid-19 checkpoint.

Former MP Hone Harawira organised the Far North Covid-19 checkpoint. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

Te Tai Tokerau is expecting an influx of Aucklanders ahead of Auckland Anniversary weekend and some are nervous, after a local woman tested positive for the South Africa strain of Covid-19 after leaving managed isolation in Auckland.

She caught it from another returnee who was also staying at the Pullman Hotel. On Wednesday it was revealed two more returnees who recently left the Pullman returned positive Covid-19 tests.

"It is yet to be confirmed if they are recent or historic infections. Further urgent testing is being carried out this evening," the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

The Ministry was slow to come forward with the new information. Earlier when asked for clarity regarding the two new cases, it said "it would be irresponsible to go to air based on a rumour," before confirming the two new cases hours later.

Te Tai Tokerau Border Control operated Northland checkpoints during 2020's Covid-19 lockdowns. Spokesman Hone Harawira believes they are needed again, but he says the police will not help.

In a statement, Northland police Inspector Riki Whiu said police were not aware of a local group's plans to re-establish checkpoints in the region.

"We are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community. As we have throughout the Covid-19 response, we continue to work with our partners which includes iwi," he said.

"Police respect and recognise the good intentions of the group, however, while New Zealand remains in alert level 1 police do not believe there is any requirement for checkpoints at this time."

Harawira said it is "really disappointing".

"Police have the authority to run a checkpoint and stop every vehicle on the road for alcohol, for firearms, for a licence… But they won't support a checkpoint to provide information to the public about the threat of Covid-19 and the impact it may have on our kaumātua and kuia.

"We stood up our checkpoints last time without the declared support of the police. They came and supported what we were doing because they could see what we were doing was in the interest of keeping our community safe.

"Regardless of what the police position is, our position is we are there to defend the rights and interests and wellbeing of our kaumātua, kuia, and the people of Tai Tokerau. We would love to have the police on board with us. If they can't be there, that's something they have to consider, not us."

Far North Mayor John Carter supports the checkpoints going ahead.

"I think there's every justification. [Tai Tokerau Border Control] are to be applauded for it quite honestly. What they're doing is taking a responsible attitude, they're not looking to turn people away, they're just saying to people 'be aware'.

"We are of course looking to have our visitors, and just as importantly, our permanent people safe. I think they're doing a good job.

"We need to be sensible and approach this realistically. We had the one instance with the lady who is to be congratulated on the steps she's taken, but now we've been made aware there may be another couple. We just need to be careful."

Carter said a short lockdown would have been premature, "but we'll have to wait and see what happens with these two other cases now".