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Checkpoints on Coast

Cultural response supported by police, district council.

Travellers are strongly urged not to take the East Coast Pacific Highway out of Tairawhiti due to the potentially devastating impact of Covid-19 on Coast Maori.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a raise in the Covid-19 threat response to level 3.

Travellers are required to return to their homes.

Roadside checkpoints along the East Coast highway will begin tomorrow.

Checkpoint co-organiser Tina Ngata is assuring people the checkpoints are not roadblocks.

Travellers who choose to take the East Coast route will be asked, not forced, to turn back. The roadside checkpoint team are working with Gisborne District Council to make sure their traffic management plan is safe, says Ms Ngata.

“We’re also working with the police to ensure the protocols are as safe as possible.”

While Covid-19 continues to spread in New Zealand, the risk to East Coast communities is too great for people to continue to drive through them, she says.

A 2016 report on Ngati Porou health revealed people of East Coast iwi are six times more likely than any other group to die of chronic illness.

Conditions such as respiratory illness, renal disease, heart disease and diabetes are more prevalent among Tairawhiti Maori — East Coast Maori particularly — than most communities.

“This means immunity among East Coast Maori is comprised and that makes us a vulnerable population for the impact of Covid-19,” says Ms Ngata.

She understands the spread of Covid-19 has created anxiety and wants to assure people the roadside checkpoints are not made up of vigilante posses but people trained in health and safety.

In response to a letter published yesterday in The Herald, Ms Ngata says the visitors returning to the Bay of Plenty who were told on Sunday they were not allowed up the main highway and were turned back were not stopped by the roadside checkpoint teams. The roadside checkpoints had not started yet.

“People are putting a lens of fear on things. We’re not too different from a community watch group. We have support from Deputy Police Commissioner, Wally Haumaha and we have a comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Mr Haumaha met with Te Whanau a Apanui and other agencies to work through what the checkpoints mean for police activities.

Te Whanau-a-Apanui is a Maori iwi located in the eastern Bay of Plenty and East Coast regions.

No one has set out to establish illegal roadblocks, says Mr Haumaha. This is about community police and iwi taking the lead to ensure rural communities that don’t have immediate access to support services are well protected.

Protecting the most vulnerable

“We are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place — out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community.

“This is Te Whanau-a-Apanui taking a strong leadership role and we want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership.

“Our role is supporting this cultural response to Covid-19.”

The council supports the message tourists should not stop in our region in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, says chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann.

“A decision has been made to restrict movement around State Highway 35 in order to protect vulnerable people in their communities.

“We will work with hapu and police to ensure their initiatives are managed safely and have supported them with a traffic management plan.”

Roadside checkpoints will be set up at Ruatoria and Wharekahika/Hicks Bay.

Nga Hapu O Te Akau o Tokomaru has announced plans are afoot for a community “neighbourhood watch” to monitor traffic flow through Tokomaru Bay. If travellers continue up the Pacific Highway they will encounter another checkpoint at Potikirua about an hour out of Wharekahika/Hicks Bay.

Te Whanau-a-Apanui leadership will impose a rahui (restriction) on movement through eastern Bay of Plenty tribal land from 8am tomorrow.

They will track and, where necessary, restrict travel through the rohe (district) between Hawai, which is halfway between Te Kaha and Opotiki, to Potaka, which is north of Wharekahika/Hicks Bay.

“In light of the pandemic Covid-19 plaguing the country and the world we have had to take proactive measures to protect our most vulnerable, our iwi taonga, our elderly and our moko,” says iwi leader Rawiri Waititi.

“Non-residents, campers including camper vans, tourists, outside fisherman, cyclists and holidaymakers are not permitted to enter our iwi territory.”

Once New Zealand is clear of the Covid-19 crisis, travellers are welcome to visit the East Coast, says Ms Ngata.

“We love tourists coming here in normal times. We love to share our beautiful place, our way of being and laidback lifestyle with considerate visitors.”

Hicks Bay, East Coast. Picture supplied by Phillip Capper from Wellington via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Clare Robinson says:

    Excellent article. This is the sensible, caring thing to do. Our Coast community is vulnerable and health facilities inadequate without our current situation. Great to see police and GDC supporting this safety protocol. Kudos to Tina Ngata and all providing this service.

  2. Janet Crawford, Auckland says:

    I travelled this way last month, staying a night at Hicks Bay. I hope many visitors will enjoy this beautiful part of the country AFTER the current pandemic.