7 May 2020

Planned Great Barrier Island checkpoint already causing contention

7:04 pm on 7 May 2020

Tourists who dock on the shores of Aotea Great Barrier Island could soon be turned away, with some locals preparing to set up a checkpoint there during alert level 2.

Sailing yacht at rest, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand.

A yacht near Aotea Great Barrier Island. Photo: cloudia/123RF

When the country went into alert level 4, Aotea Great Barrier Island was essentially cut off - no-one was allowed to go to or from the island for four weeks.

Alert level 3 means locals can now leave the island, but can't return.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed today under alert level 2 people would be allowed to travel around the country.

That made Aotea Great Barrier Island local Kelly Klink very concerned.

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"We only have one medical facility and that's in Claris, in the middle of the island," she said.

"If the virus comes here it'll just be rampant throughout the island and we won't be able to control it. We're predominantly at the high risk end of the threshold."

She and other descendants of local iwi Ngāti Rehua Ngati Wai ki Aotea plan to set up a checkpoint at the Tryphena Wharf from next Tuesday, where they will turn away all non-residents including holiday home owners.

"We've sent a message out to Sealink that any non-residents coming to the island will be turned away and they'll have to come back to the main land," she said.

"It''s a preventative measure and our whānau are getting quite concerned and worried for their own safety and health issues."

She said Sealink - which operated charters to and from the island - had not yet responded.

No police support

In a statement, police said they were aware of plans to set up a checkpoint on the island, but did not support it given the late stage at which it has been initiated.

Police said they would not be supporting or allowing any community-led checkpoints during alert level two, and already had a system in place with Auckland Emergency Management to ensure that there is no unnecessary travel to Great Barrier Island.

Police did not say what action they would take if the checkpoint goes ahead.

Local support - and opposition

But local Dean Broughton, who has lived on the island for 30 years, is backing the checkpoint.

"I fully support stopping people coming here at the moment, even for another two or three weeks and see how it goes in Auckland," he said.

"We've got more cases happening in New Zealand now and we don't have it here. Doesn't it make sense to keep people away?"

Rochelle Gilbert, a worker at Claris Store on the island, supported the checkpoint too.

"I think due to the situation that is going on I feel like it would make the island feel a bit more at peace knowing that there's nobody coming to and fro from Auckland," she said.

But not everyone on the island agreed.

Two other shop owners didn't want to comment publicly, but told RNZ they didn't support the checkpoint and would like to see more revenue coming into the island to support their business.

The owner of the Mulberry Grove Store, Steve, on the other hand said preventing the spread of the virus on the island should be the priority.

"It's not about money," he said.

"Income is definitely down because the tourists aren't here but we have just come out of the summer and it was a good summer.

"The more that we can reduce it and isolate ourselves the better. We've got 25 percent of the population over 65 and there's a lot of crook people as well, and we have a small medical team. If it came here it wouldn't be good at all."

However, he was unsure how practical a checkpoint would be.

Klink said regardless of police support, plans to erect the checkpoint were still in place.

She said discussions with kaumatua and other locals about how they would operate the checkpoint were ongoing.

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