Lockdown Wānaka excursion: Pair go to court to keep names under wraps

Author
Vera Alves, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 Sep 2021, 9:27AM
Lake Wanaka. (Photo / File)
Lake Wanaka. (Photo / File)

Lockdown Wānaka excursion: Pair go to court to keep names under wraps

Author
Vera Alves, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 Sep 2021, 9:27AM

An Auckland couple accused of using their "essential worker" exemptions to leave the city and fly to a holiday home in Wānaka have been granted interim name suppression. 

Charges are yet to be laid against the couple, but there was an urgent hearing on Monday evening via teleconference at which a district court judge granted interim name suppression for 24 hours for the two people. 

It was granted to allow their counsel to apply to the High Court for suppression of a longer duration. 

The Herald opposed the name suppression request last night and will challenge the High Court bid. 

According to police, the Auckland couple reportedly used essential worker exemptions to cross the boundary and drive to Hamilton Airport on Thursday, September 9. 

Once there, they boarded a commercial flight and travelled to Queenstown via Wellington. 

In Queenstown, police say the couple hired a car and drove to Wānaka. 

They were reported online through the Covid-19 compliance tool and located by police on Saturday afternoon. 

After being spoken to by police, the couple indicated they would return to their usual place of residence in Auckland. 

Police are considering charges under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and the Ministry of Health has been notified. 

The Wānaka community is upset at what many locals describe as the "arrogant" attitude of the couple. 

Nick Aubrey, owner of Kai Whakapai on Wānaka's lakefront, says news of the breach is "a slap in the face for so many of us who are doing our bit". 

"It just has the potential to cause such big harm. It's very frustrating because the community has been going above and beyond, trying to do the right thing. 

"We're pissed off. I think you'll find everyone here is pissed off," he told the Herald, calling the actions of the two Aucklanders "very selfish and irresponsible". 

September 13 2021 Auckland will remain at level 4 for another week, until 11.59pm on September 21. Level 2 will remain in place for the rest of New Zealand for another week, and Cabinet will review these settings on Monday next week. 

A couple of doors down from the lakefront café, Becky Roberts, who owns homewares and jewellery store Thieving Kea, also doesn't hide her feelings over the situation. 

"It's disgusting, it's gutting. Who do they think they are? We're vulnerable here, the whole community is vulnerable," she says. 

Local businesses are upset that the town was put at risk. Photo / NZ Herald

Local businesses are upset that the town was put at risk. Photo / NZ Herald 

Roberts believes the lockdown breach put the whole town at risk and says it's important that the couple are held accountable for their actions, to stop others from doing the same thing. 

"I wish they were named and shamed. They need to be made an example of. They sound like wealthy people so a fine will be nothing to them. Thy need to be publicly embarrassed so they don't do it again. And to stop others from thinking about doing the same thing," she said. 

Charlie Hayne, duty manager at the Lake Bar, says everyone in town that he has heard from is "pretty upset". 

"It's so arrogant and selfish. We don't know where else they've been, we don't know if they're sick." 

Hayne says the whole town has been working hard to follow the rules and keep Covid out, and businesses are hurting badly from the latest lockdown, as well as the situation in Auckland. 

"Business is really tough at the moment at level 2. On a busy day, we'd have 250 people in here at once, but the limit of 50 people inside makes things very difficult," he says. 

Hayne is hopeful Wānaka can soon move to level 1 so those limits on indoor gatherings can increase. 

As for the Auckland absconders, who have since returned to the city, his hope is that they get "the book thrown at them". 

Wānaka Ward Councillor Quentin Smith also told the Herald the whole community is upset at the news that level 4 people have been able to sneak into town. 

Police have revealed more details about how the couple got to Wānaka from Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Police have revealed more details about how the couple got to Wānaka from Auckland. Photo / Getty Images 

"Needless to say, it has been not welcomed by the Wānaka community and it is widely considered selfish and thoughtless," he said. 

Asked about the actions of the absconders during her alert level announcement this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that while she does not know the full details of this particular case, her general comment is that "everyone needs to play their part" and "the rules are not there to be gamed". 

"Aucklanders would take a very dim view of other Aucklanders who are not doing their bit," she added.