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Police have ‘no legal authority' for checkpoints

POLICE say there will be no checkpoints to stop and monitor traffic flow at the Tairawhiti borders because they do not have the lawful authority to set them up.

Tairāwhiti regional leadership group Rau Tipu Rau Ora have written to the Director General of Health requesting a public health order which will include checkpoints at Tairāwhiti borders.

The request involved police-led checkpoints at strategic locations on state highways 2 and 35 — assisted by local iwi/hapū — to check travellers' proof of vaccination status or that they have had a negative Covid-19 test within the required 72-hour timeframe.

Area police commander Inspector Sam Aberahama this morning said checkpoints would not be established at the region's borders.

“It's illegal,” he said. “We (police) currently don't have the legal authority to put in place any Covid-related checkpoints.

“I have discussed this with iwi, hapu and the Rau Tipu Rau Ora leadership group.

“What we have done is bring in extra staff from outside the district to work with our local staff on what we have called Operation Tu Kotahi (Stand Together).”

The operation started at the weekend.

Insp Aberahama said extra police patrols were opearating on the highways and in rural areas.

“They will be working alongside the community in a variety of different ways.

“For example, we have extra staff at a tangi on the East Coast today to ensure everyone there remains safe.

“They will be working alongside the health staff involved in the vaccination clinics operating across the district, and patrolling the roads.”

Insp Aberahama said road policing staff would be focused on speed and alcohol consumption.

“Police will be highly visible on our highways.”

The regional leaders group made the checkpoints request based on concerns about the risk to individuals and communities around the spread of Covid-19 Delta and also around the fragility of the region's health system.

“The Tairāwhiti health system will struggle to deal with a Covid outbreak among our current resident population,” co-chair Mayor Rehette Stoltz said.

“The addition of an estimated 10,000 returning whānau members and tourists would place enormous pressure on an already exhausted health workforce.”

The other co-chair of Rau Tipu Rau Ora, Selwyn Parata, pointed to the high unvaccinated populations in parts of the district.

Mr Parata this morning told The Herald the group had not yet received a reply to their health order request.