24 Apr 2020

Covid-19: More iwi checkpoints to be set up in Taranaki for alert level 3

10:57 am on 24 April 2020

Taranaki iwi are worried going into alert level 3 could be devastating for local Māori and say they are going to set up checkpoints around the region.

Iwi checkpoints were operating in the Far North on the night before the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Iwi checkpoints were also operating in the Far North on the night before the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

Iwi leaders say not enough Māori have been tested for Covid-19 and they are taking matters into their own hands.

The call is out to test more Māori for Covid-19 and Taranaki has been flagged as a region that needs to increase its community testing.

Ngāti Ruanui leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said when the alert drops to level 3, local iwi would run checkpoints near Mōkau and at Pātea - the northern and southern gateways to the region.

"We want to be able to keep our region Covid-free and we will do whatever we need to ensure that happens," she said.

"Because we are so vulnerable if even one got into us, it would have catastrophic consequences."

Police Minister Stuart Nash has warned about illegal community checkpoints, but Ngarewa-Packer said they were talking to police to get support.

Ngarewa-Packer said they wanted to be able to keep track of people travelling between regions and they hoped to provide a testing station at the checkpoint in Pātea.

"It'll be able to, as we have seen around the motu, take a real respectful approach to it," she said.

"And we know we have got a lot of support - so we know not just Māori but a lot of non-Māori here within Taranaki are really angst about making sure we protect our region."

Taranaki has only 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19 - 12 people have recovered and two are still sick.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report communities setting up checkpoints earlier in the response to Covid-19 was understandable when the risk was unknown, but now the situation was different.

Anyone wanting to do so now must work with police, Coster said.

"From the start of this, we have worked with communities but communities are not specifically authorised to undertake checkpoint-type of activity.

"For that reason, where these things have been occurring we're now working to ensure that there's police presence or indeed preferably that the checkpoints cease, because the risk to our communities is lower."

Coster said it was also understandable for communities to be concerned under slightly looser restrictions of level 3, however, the message to stay local remained.

"We cannot have communities running checkpoints that are preventing movement that is permitted under whatever level we are in. So that will be our concern, to make sure that people who are entitled to use the road are free to do that."

Testing for local Māori and complications

But Te Korowai o Ngāruahine chair Bev Gibson said by Wednesday, only 1 percent of local Māori had been tested, and Taranaki iwi were concerned.

Her small iwi health service wanted to do their own testing, but she said the District Health Board would not give up control.

"What the DHB is offering is a nurse to do it," she said.

"Why have they done that? Why have they offered a nurse when we have a very good RN [registered nurse] who can do that?

"It just troubles why they still have to have that control over the delivery or the management of the swabs."

Gibson, who used to be on the DHB board, said she hoped the nurse was Māori because she expected more Māori to engage with the service if it that was the case.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who is also the co-leader of the Māori Party, said they have had trouble trying to set up testing too.

Ngāti Ruanui runs the biggest Māori health service in South Taranaki, and the second largest GP service in Taranaki.

Last week, she spoke to government officials about her plan to roll out targeted testing of Māori.

She wanted 300 swabs this week but nothing arrived on Monday and they had to turn people away.

"We had identified and pre-booked 100 symptomatic whānau and we had to cancel that Monday pre-booking, and Tuesday pre-booking, because Taranaki DHB would not supply us with the swabs."

The Ministry of Health said it had no record of Ngarewa-Packer's request, although she was adamant she had support from officials.

The DHB controls the distribution of tests, and its chief executive Rosemary Clements said they had not received any extra for the iwi, but it was helping them.

Ngarewa-Packer said after Monday's problem, the board promised 50 tests a day.

Despite that, more people had to be turned away on Tuesday because only 30 tests arrived in the afternoon.

"We are presenting a simple solution with qualified nurses and everything done at our costs and we are mobilising the communities that they are not able to reach - and this is the blockage that we have been receiving," Ngarewa-Packer said.

"And it has been like this the whole four weeks - it has been shocking."

Ngarewa-Packer said the relationship with the DHB was irretrievable and she intended to write to the Minister of Health for intervention.

The District Health Board this week set up mobile testing which is being run by Māori health service Tui Ora.

Clinical director Bernard Leuthart said he was working in a high trust relationship with the DHB, but it had not always been that way.

He said he could access as many tests as he needed, and the new mobile clinics would target Māori.

"We want to offer an opportunity where Māori people feel they are engaged with on the front foot, not on the back foot."

The DHB said test rates were increasing.

It said almost 21 percent of its tests had been for Māori, which was higher than the Māori population rate.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP

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