'Stay away' plea as small towns brace for Easter influx despite lockdown

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Apr 2020, 6:40PM

'Stay away' plea as small towns brace for Easter influx despite lockdown

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 9 Apr 2020, 6:40PM

Iwi and small, isolated communities are pleading for Easter holidaymakers to "stay away" as reports emerge of lockdown-breakers sneaking in to vulnerable hotspots.

In Whangamata the town's population has appeared to swell to near-normal holiday levels with "huge lines" emerging at the only supermarket, and Tūrangi and Ohakune are both also reporting non-locals swarming into their communities.

Bach owners who do so risk prosecution under the new Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, and also put a strain on local resources and health services.

Police have been cracking down through the day on people flouting lockdown rules and trying to get away for Easter by stopping and turning motorists around at checkpoints up and down the country.

In the Tasman district south of Murchison police stopped eight groups of travellers this morning who were travelling north for the Easter break and turned them back to Christchurch.

Meanwhile in Auckland, police were stopping all cars entering and exiting Auckland's Southern Motorway and others have been set up north of Wellington.

A worker at Z petrol station in Whangamata said while traffic was slow during the day locals believed people were sneaking in to town overnight.

"Just in the last few days it has become really busy here, just like in the normal holidays. You can really see it at New World, our only supermarket. There weren't any lines there before but in the past few days it has been getting really long."

The influx of non-locals had many in the small town concerned, she said.

"We have a lot of older people living here and limited healthcare options. As an essential worker the increase is also putting us at risk.

"There are not many police around so there is not much we can do about it."

Meanwhile, Ohakune-based iwi Ngāti Rangi is urging outsiders to not come into the Ruapehu area during lockdown, particularly over the upcoming Easter break.

Ohakune alone has 800 holiday homes.

"We have enough non-locals here as it is and people need to stay at home" said Te Kāhui o Paerangi chair Whetu Moataane.

"As a rural community our local health system can and should only respond to the sitting population.

"You will be putting pressure on our rural health system and food supply chain.

"We do not have the capacity to cater for visitors as well.

"Respect our place by respecting our wishes. We aren't open for business."

Moataane said they were also urging local authorities to step up to enforce the lockdown.

"We would prefer that our borders be shut immediately. It's the only way we are going to combat this ngārara (bug) and keep our people and community safe."

Police would have an increased presence in the area, he said.

Similar concerns have been raised in nearby Tūrangi, where pockets of the small town are at an estimated summer population level.

Police have helped move on a number of people planning to holiday in Māhia after intervention by the community, with local iwi now introducing checkpoints.

Mo Rongo, Mahia Hub leader and chief executive of Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust, said visitors to the community of 1140 full-time residents were "not hard to see", and those attempting bach visits were "arrogant and ignorant".

"It is a shame some choose to ignore the safety of our community. Visitors come here, stay in their private holiday homes or baches, go to the shops. There is a high risk of contamination, and they are putting our lives at risk.

"It is our duty of care to look after our community which is primarily made of vulnerable, older, European and the Māori community."

Iwi-led checkpoints continue to operate across the North Island, designed to keep travellers away from highly-vulnerable communities with poor access to healthcare.

The East Cape is being protected on the northern flank by Bay of Plenty iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Ngāti Porou in the east, running checkpoints from Wharekāhika to Uawa.

Ngāi Tūhoe is also operating checkpoints in Te Urewera, and this week Ngāti Manawa announced two checkpoints in Murupara.