Iwi chairs, DHB bosses have 'grave concerns' Covid will spread into Northland this summer

5:46 pm on 1 December 2021

The government won't back down amid growing pressure to stop unvaccinated visitors to Northland this summer.

Border checkpoint in the far north

Border checkpoint in the far north Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

From 15 December unvaccinated Aucklanders can travel north if they return a negative Covid test within 72 hours prior.

But Te Tai Tokerau iwi chairs and the Auckland, Waitematā, Counties Manukau and Northland DHB chief executives have written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Andrew Little, citing "grave concerns" and pleading for the government to backtrack.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Takoto co-chair Wallace Rivers was one signatory.

He told RNZ: "Our communities are fearful that Covid will spread from Auckland, into our communities and elsewhere, throughout other communities throughout Aotearoa, not just ours."

The letter followed another from a smaller Pēwhairangi group this week, claiming they would block off areas between Waitangi and Russell, from visitors this summer.

But there was no change of heart from Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins today, instead he put it back on Northlanders to keep themselves safe.

"To all those in Northland who are expressing concern or nervousness or anxiety, the best thing they can do is go out there and find people who haven't been vaccinated and have conversations with them about the importance of vaccination."

He said there was more vaccine misinformation in Te Tai Tokerau than anywhere else in the country.

Fifteen percent of eligible people are still yet to have a single dose.

The stakes got even higher today, when the Waitangi National Trust canned commemoration plans at the treaty grounds - where crowds of 40,000 gather annually.

Chair and Ngāti Hine leader Pita Tipene said the decision was based on dire modelling from the DHB, and people needed answers.

"People book marquees, they book stages, they book a whole host of equipment and businesses want certainty. So we can't leave it in the lead up to Christmas and New Year because people take holidays and we don't want people to be taken by surprise."

Exactly how the checks on visitors to the north will work remains unclear. Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua chief operations officer Antony Thompson said there are still no firm plans in place.

"Being two weeks out, we are really anxious about one, planning from now till the 15th of December and then what the world, or what Northland is gonna look like from the 15th of December through to January."

As the joint DHB and iwi letter to the government says:"There is time for people to be double vaccinated if the message is out now and is unambiguous" - but that time is quickly running out.

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