1 May 2020

West Coast's leaders want region's lockdown rules relaxed

6:35 pm on 1 May 2020

West Coast's mayors are calling on the government to relax the lockdown rules in their region to save jobs and businesses.

West Coast, South Island.

The West Coast. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The West Coast DHB area has only had five cases of Covid-19, none of which are active and no new cases since 5 April.

Despite that, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this week said there would be no regional moves out of alert level 3 at the moment, though she had not ruled it out in the future.

Westland District Mayor Bruce Smith said the current restrictions in the West Coast were based on fear and not facts.

Westland mayor Bruce Smith

Westland District Mayor Bruce Smith. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

"For the last 150 years people in South Westland, Karamea, Reefton, right throughout the Coast have never seen or dealt with Covid-19 and to this day they don't see it or have to deal with it," he said.

"And to lock down the economies of the coast and of New Zealand on a fear-based thing is quite crazy.

"The odds of winning Lotto in New Zealand are one in 383,838. The odds of getting [and dying from] Covid-19 are one in 257,157. It is bizarre and we need to bring the focus back on our economy and for our West Coast economy we need to let our people go back to work."

West Coast councils had the ability to control its borders with only four roads in or out, Smith said.

Every day under alert level 3 was costing jobs, he said.

"We're under increasing pressure from our business leaders and we don't have the power to do anything like that [easing restrictions] but our role is to advocate for the people we represent and as strongly as we can."

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Support from other mayors

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Jamie Cleine. Photo: Supplied

Buller District Mayor Jamie Cleine said he saw no reason why the region could not move to level 2.

"It would be something that would certainly get our district up and running sooner rather than later and if there's no justification in terms of health as to why you would keep it that way then they should review it," he said.

His district had recorded no cases of the virus.

Grey District Mayor Tania Gibson said businesses were hurting and, if there continued to be no new cases, the trading environment needed to be greatly relaxed.

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson

Tania Gibson. Photo: Supplied

"We don't want to undo the good work we've done for our community, we still need to keep them safe. But I do think that in another week or so, if still had no new cases, it would be good to be looked at."

The government also needed to sign-off on applications to mine coal and gold which could create more than 100 high-paying jobs on the West Coast, she said.

"Our primary industries are the ones that have propped it [the economy] up. We can't keep borrowing money. Money doesn't come from out of thin air and if there are jobs there, let us work.

"Don't give us job centres for queues of people lining up for jobs that aren't there. We have these jobs sitting under our noses."

Government's response

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told media this afternoon he sympathised with the West Coast, but the country needed to stay the course.

Grant Robertson

Grant Robertson. Photo: NZME

"New Zealanders know the great gains we made in level four and we need to lock those in through level three and that's been because as a country of five million people we have decided collectively that we are all in this together.

"So I can understand in communities like the West Coast they are saying we want to get on with it, we all do but we've got to stay the course in level three."

Robertson reminded the region that the country's first Covid-19 death occurred in the West Coast and that showed how it can spread.

The source of the Covid-19 infection which caused the woman's death was never identified, despite a thorough investigation by the public health unit.

The West Coast DHB area was not the only one with no active cases with the Tairāwhiti, Wairarapa and Whanganui DHB areas in the same boat.

Gisborne District Mayor Rehette Stoltz said despite only four cases in her district, all of which were recovered, and the ability to limit road access to the area, she was happy to stay the course.

"Ultimately our main responsibility is the safety and health of our residents so if the government can put our level down but also protect us we'll be more than happy with that because we are desperate to get our businesses up and running. The ultimate responsibility for that sits with the government and we respect that."

The government was expected to confirm what level two would look like in the coming week before deciding what happened next at the cabinet meeting on 11 May.

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