14 Dec 2021

Tairāwhiti community leaders call for Covid-19 checkpoints over summer

3:49 pm on 14 December 2021

Local leaders in the Tairāwhiti Gisborne region are calling for checkpoints around the region to protect its residents from Covid-19 this summer.

Police question drivers at a static checkpoint in Okitu, Wainui on Tuesday morning.

Police question drivers at a static checkpoint in Okitu, Wainui on Tuesday morning. Photo: Gray Clapham / Gisborne Herald / LDR

The region has the second-lowest full vaccination rate in the country, at 82 per cent.

Tairāwhiti has finally reached the milestone of 90 per cent first doses, but leaders fear the community is still at risk.

A media release from the Gisborne District Council today said Rau Tip Rau Ora, the Tairāwhiti Regional Leadership Group, has written to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, requesting a public health order to enable checkpoints at the Tairāwhiti borders.

The letter requested police-led checkpoints be set up at locations on State Highways 2 and 35, assisted by local iwi and hapū to check travellers' proof of vaccination status or they have had a negative Covid-19 test within 72-hours.

Gisborne mayor and Rau Tipu Rau Ora co-chair Rehette Stoltz said the request was not only based on the risk to individuals and communities, but also the fragility of the region's health system.

"The Tairāwhiti health system will struggle to deal with a Covid outbreak amongst our current resident population. The addition of an estimated 10,000 returning whānau members and tourists, would place enormous pressure on an already exhausted health workforce," Stoltz said in the release.

It is estimated the Tairāwhiti population grows by 25-30 percent during the Christmas-New Year holiday period.

Due to calls from the local community, the Gisborne District Council recently announced that all camping would be restricted to those with vaccination passes.

Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou chairman and co-chair of Rau Tip Rau Ora, Selwyn Parata, said townships such as Ruatorea and Uawa, and some suburbs in Gisborne still had high unvaccinated populations, along with high numbers of pakeke (elders), those under 20 and whānau with respiratory conditions.

He said these conditions were underscored by the tyranny of distance, and health services and systems that were neglected and under-resourced for years.

"We're aware that police checkpoints in partnership with local iwi and hapū will be established in Northland from December 15 when the borders around Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) are lifted," he said.

"We're asking the same consideration be given to Tairāwhiti. We do not see this as setting a precedent for other parts of the country, because our circumstances in Tairāwhiti are unique and like Northland they require a bespoke response".

Gisborne Tairāwhiti Chamber of Commerce president Belinda Mackey told Midday Report she was supportive of the checkpoints if they were police-led, but had concerns.

"Our key concern is that we have perishable goods going in and out of the region. We produce a lot of the horticultural crops for New Zealand, and we're just concerned that there may be delays."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield received the letter on Thursday, 9 November.

"The Director-General of Health will be responding directly to Leadership Group on this matter," the spokesperson said.

The Rau Tipu Rau Ora governance group in Tairāwhiti was established to oversee the production and implementation of the Tairāwhiti Covid-19 Response and Recovery Plan,

The group comprises the Gisborne Mayor and the chairs of, local iwi, the Tairāwhiti DHB, Trust Tairāwhiti, Eastland Group Ltd and the Eastern Institute of Technology- Tairāwhiti.

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