Covid-19: Aucklanders heading on holiday ahead of lockdown angers leaders
An exodus of travellers heading out of Auckland shortly after New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown was announced has angered community leaders, who fear the virus will spread.
The nationwide alert level 4 lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 6pm on Tuesday night, after community transmission of the highly infectious Delta variant was found in Auckland.
But even as the announcement was being made, thousands of people were heading to Northland, equipped as if going on holiday, said Rueben Taipari, a leader of Tai Tokerau Border Control.
“It’s ridiculous: thousands of cars were coming north from Auckland ... They’re bringing their frickin’ boats and caravans, and with their bikes on top of their racks.
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“None of them were locals ... They don’t live here, they’re not permanent residents.”
A Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) spokesman confirmed higher than usual Tuesday afternoon peak traffic was observed on Auckland state highways, with queues forming in the evening at Johnstones Hill Tunnel north of Auckland.
Residents who normally drive on State Highway 1 on a Tuesday night reported seeing a solid line of cars heading north on State Highway 1, south of Whangārei.
One resident who overlooks the highway at Johnstones Hill tunnel near Puhoi said there was a constant stream of traffic well into the night, like a busy holiday weekend.
Tai Tokerau Border Control set up iwi roadblocks during past lockdowns to stop any unnecessary travel into and through Northland.
Taipari is “very, very angry” at the arrogant attitude of those not taking the Delta variant seriously and leaving Auckland, when the rules for level 4 lockdown are clearly to stay at home.
“This is not a holiday,” is his message to those people. “Northland is not a holiday camp; we live here, this is our home.”
Taipari was also disappointed at the lack of police or army presence, or anyone to ensure there was no unnecessary travel.
“There’s no checkpoints on the borders of Auckland, no army presence, no police presence, it’s just us [Tai Tokerau Border Control].
“Seriously, are we the frontline for Delta? Are you kidding me?”
Tai Tokerau Border Control was considering setting up roadblocks, but Taipari did not want to set up on Tuesday night without support from police and health professionals, to provide safety in the face of the Delta strain.
The organisation got its authority from its passion to protect the community, especially the elders, he said.
Similar exodus observed in Wellington
The NZTA also observed a steady flow of traffic leaving Wellington City up until 10pm Tuesday.
Congestion was especially heavy heading northbound through Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki due to the stop-go controls which were still in place after the morning’s slip, which led to a train derailment.
Traffic volumes out of Christchurch were generally normal Tuesday afternoon and evening, with congestion concentrated around major supermarket locations and the CBD area.
“As expected, traffic volumes on all state highways were much lower this compared to a normal weekday morning,” the NZTA spokesman said
Police to increase visibility in towns
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said police would be out in towns, cities and on the roads to ensure people were keeping to the restrictions, and there should be no need for community checkpoints.
“Police will be out and about around the country and will be checking that people’s travel is for essential purposes only.”
He said police had noticed a number of people travelling on Tuesday who appeared to be heading off on holiday.
They had been appropriately dealt with, he said.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai was also disappointed Aucklanders appeared to have been abusing the rules, putting Northlanders at risk.
“We can’t assume everybody towing a boat or a jet ski is an Aucklander, but it does sound like Aucklanders are taking advantage of the situation and that’s really disobeying the rules.
“We don’t know if these people have been exposed, they don’t know yet either – they really should be staying at home,” Mai said.
“It’s so uncertain to know how far this may have already spread, and to expose Northlanders to an increase risk through the actions of the people who may have brought it north, that makes me a bit grumpy.”
While acknowledging the frustration of Northlanders, Mai urged them not to take any vigilante action – saying the best way to stay safe was for everyone to follow the rules.
“Follow the rules: social distancing, wearing masks, personal hygiene, all the things we’ve got to know and love.”
Non-residents heading to Waiheke Island described as entitled
Northland is not the only area to be inundated, as Auckland’s Waiheke Island also had an influx of non-residents on Tuesday night, local board chairwoman Cath Handley said.
While she acknowledged some residents would have been heading home, she said many on the ferry were people heading to their baches with luggage.
These people were entitled, clearly acting outside the rules, and were reckless – as Waiheke Island has an older population and limited ways to get to the hospital, Handley said.
“In the face of not knowing if you may have come in contact with Covid, and then to take a deliberate action of moving from where you’re meant to be – your place of residence – it’s really unfortunate and disappointing, and it shows a degree of entitlement.”
Handley urged everyone to take on some responsibility, by bunkering down and following the rules.
Auckland’s Manukau councillor Fa'anana Efeso Collins was also disappointed to hear of Aucklanders fleeing the city, but said it was only a minority.
In a tweet, he urged people to keep their bubbles safe, and check in on loved ones.