Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Auckland holidaymakers warned to stay away from regions

Aucklanders who had to endure a 107-day lockdown to protect the rest of the country from the Delta variant now face being locked out of some of New Zealand’s most popular summer hotspots over the festive season.

Borders surrounding Auckland will be lifted next Wednesday, December 15, with some being replaced with police checkpoints.

Those from the City of Sails who can provide proof of being fully vaccinated are legally allowed to travel around the country after that date but many groups outside of the region have urged Aucklanders to reconsider.

The Ōpōtiki District Council (ŌDC) is backing calls from iwi leaders to try to block Aucklanders from travelling to the district.

“We are remote, most people are more than three hours from the nearest hospital, and we have a lot of vulnerable and elderly in our communities,” Ōpōtiki councillor Louis Rapihana said.

A person from Ōpōtiki tested positive for Covid, it was announced yesterday. They were outside the region when they received their results and returned to Ōpōtiki to complete required isolation with public health support.

Rapihana, who is also a member of the iwi response unit for Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, said that with Covid continuing to cause disruption and new variants around the world, the simple message from his iwi was to “stay away”.

“We do have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country and this is thanks to the great effort made by our very small medical team, but keeping people and Covid out is our first and best defence against this virus,” he said.

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He would not elaborate not how travellers might be blocked from travelling into the district. Checkpoints were a risk for them as they were “strangers to pandemics”.

“We still commemorate those we lost with the 1918 flu epidemic that ravaged our iwi and saw a huge loss of life with the generation of the early 1900s.

“Our people stood up isolation camps for those that contracted the deadly virus. We have put measures in place to do the same, so we know what we have to do and we will do what it takes to protect ours and those that live within our boundaries,” Rapihana said.

However, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said yesterday Aucklanders had borne the brunt of the Delta outbreak and it was time to allow New Zealanders to reconnect with one another.

“It’s crucial that all of us, right around the country, continue to play our part, so we can enjoy the summer we all deserve. Most importantly, if you are unwell, stay home and don’t go out or travel until you’ve had a negative PCR test,” Bloomfield said.

ŌDC chief executive Aileen Lawrie said other iwi in the district, including Whakatōhea and Ngaitai, had made similar calls and the council was keen to support the kaupapa.

“Asking people not to travel into vulnerable communities was another way we can help protect each other, and we support our local iwi in their request to keep Covid out of their rohe,” Lawrie said.

A Whanganui iwi leader was also begging holidaymakers to reconsider plans to visit the region this summer to protect its communities from Covid.

Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chairwoman Sheena Maru told RNZ members of the iwi were concerned about the risk of Aucklanders visiting in coming months.

She said they were lucky the region had avoided Covid cases during the latest outbreak, but that could all change when the Auckland borders reopened next week.

In Whanganui, only 62 per cent of Māori are fully vaccinated. Maru said this meant part of the region was still vulnerable to the virus.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said local authorities could make determinations about where vaccine certificates were required in terms of accessing council controlled facilities but he expected everyone to follow the law.

His message to all New Zealanders was: “We have set up the traffic light response framework to help manage the risk”.

Last month, East Coast iwi Ngāti Porou also expressed concerns about the borders reopening.

Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chair Selwyn Parata said there was a real threat of the virus coming into the region, which would overwhelm underfunded health services.

“Our region’s health services struggle to service our people as it is now, without the very real threat of Covid-19. It is not an exaggeration to say that health services will be overwhelmed when Covid-19 arrives in our region,” Parata said.

All Department of Conservation (DoC) campgrounds and huts would be open to those who were fully vaccinated, DoC heritage and visitors director Steve Taylor said last week.

“When booking, visitors will be required to confirm they and all others in their group are fully vaccinated. Hut wardens and camp hosts are regularly on site and will be checking for vaccination status.”

The Herald contacted National Party health spokesman Shane Reti’s office to get his thoughts on the debate and is awaiting a response.

Seymour: Govt 'never really planned to fight Delta on home soil'

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick says it has been tough year, but we have seen “the best” of us as a community having to deal with living through a pandemic.

“We as a team of 5 million have responded really, really effectively,” she told TVNZ’s Breakfast show.

ACT Party leader David Seymour said, however, there are valid criticisms of the Government’s response to Covid-19.

“The main one is just that they really didn’t think about the next stage through the first half of this year.”

He said the Government was “very complacent” and had planned to keep the Delta variant out by effectively relying on managed isolation and quarantine.

“They never really planned to fight Delta on home soil.”

As a result, there were delays to vaccinate people – while there was an outbreak.

Seymour said there need to be better technologies – including new ways of Covid-19 testing – and there need to be better strategies in place for the business sector, for example.

But he said he was “quietly optimistic” as the number of community cases in Auckland go down.

“I just have a feeling, based on the data we’re seeing right now, that Summer is going to be okay.”

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