Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Iwi ‘sidelined’ over police checkpoints

A decision to set up 24-hour police checkpoints at the main entry points to Northland is seven days too late, according to a hapū-led “border control” group.

On Wednesday police announced they had established checkpoints at Brynderwyn, Kaiwaka and Mangawhai to stop non-essential movement between Auckland and Northland.

Police had previously operated mobile checkpoints — much like drink-driving checkpoints — which popped up at various times and locations including Waipu, Paihia and Kaikohe.

Tai Tokerau Border Control (TTBC) coordinator Rueben Taipari said he was frustrated by the delay and the decision to leave out iwi.

”It’s seven days too late, and the police decision at Wellington level to say it’s not essential for iwi to be a part of the solution is very disappointing.”

Taipari said the group was ”seriously organised, self-funded and able to mobilise within hours”.

”We could’ve been on the road immediately if we’d been informed the Delta strain was in Auckland. We would have shut that road straight away. Hindsight is a waste of time but we could have contained the virus in Auckland, now you can see the spread of contacts.”

Earlier Taipari said he had counted 400-500 cars an hour heading north on State Highway 1 at Ruakākā in the hours before alert level 4 came into force.

Police have defended the decision to leave out iwi, saying they were not using volunteers this time due to the higher risk posed by the Delta variant.

Northland district commander Superintendent Tony Hill said police had an ongoing dialogue with Ngāti Whātua and Tai Tokerau Border Control about staff deployments in Northland during level 4.

Previous enforcement activities had included roving patrols and temporary checkpoints at many locations.

”While we appreciate community leaders’ commitment, police have decided to operate without volunteer involvement given there is a greater risk posed to our communities with the Delta variant.”

Hill said anyone trying to drive into or around Northland could expect to be stopped at a checkpoint or at random and asked about their reasons for travel.

Andrew Coster, the country’s top cop, said ”a large number” of vehicles were turned around at Northland checkpoints on Wednesday.

At least one person is believed to have been arrested on Thursday after trying to breach alert level 4 travel rules two days in a row.

TTBC founder Hone Harawira told RNZ he had accepted assurances from Northland police at the start of the lockdown they had the situation under control.

However, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern held up a “heat map” earlier this week it showed the greatest concentration of close contacts in the country was in Northland.

”They wouldn’t have been here if the police had whacked up a checkpoint and stopped everybody on day one … When I saw that heat map I was absolutely gutted. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed. Ashamed of myself that as the coordinator of border control I allowed the police to talk me down.”

Ngāti Whātua, which worked closely with police on the south side of the Auckland-Northland border in previous lockdowns, said it felt sidelined.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua chief operating officer Antony Thompson said the iwi brought valuable experience to managing checkpoints.

“We can resolve and defuse matters where people are travelling between regions, especially during high stress times such as tangihanga, in a way that preserves everyone’s dignity. We’re pretty good at spotting a tall tale when it parks up as well.”

The fully trained Ngāti Whātua crews were currently working at vaccination and testing sites to manage traffic and crowds.

The iwi only found out on Tuesday night from media that checkpoints would be set up in its rohe, he said.

While TTBC was not involved in the police checkpoints, Taipari said the group was not ”sitting around on our arses crying”.

The group was using its Northland-wide network to organise food deliveries and support for isolated kaumatua and kuia.

TTBC had also set up an 0800 number (0800 TOKERAU) for the duration of the lockdown that whānau could call if they needed help and were struggling to get through to government agencies.

Callers should leave a message with their contact details and reason for getting in contact.

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