Since the Taranaki iwi community checkpoints in Urenui and Pātea have been in place, data collected has shown a high rate of inter-regional travel since entering Alert Level 3.
South Taranaki Iwi spokesperson Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says that there are huge concerns about what unnecessary travel into the rohe means for the people who live there.
“Many people claim they are unaware of Alert Level 3 travel restrictions, but some motorists are blatantly ignoring them. There have been a number of freedom campers, travellers returning to the region after a long weekend away and two motorists said they were travelling to Taranaki to ‘see the mountain’ and going for a ‘tiki tour’. Quite frankly these reasons aren’t good enough, nor are they permitted under the current restrictions.”
Over the first three days of operation there was a regional total of 3,000 passenger vehicles stopped at the checkpoints in Urenui and Pātea, and 1,634 (55%) of them were motorists travelling from outside of the region. Motorists had travelled from as far away as Northland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and the South Island. Inter-regional travellers were significantly higher in the south than in the north. There were 1658 total travellers in the south, 1260 (76%) of those were from outside the region, while in the north there were 1342 total travellers, with 374 (28%) coming from outside Taranaki.
“The majority of motorists travelling inter-regionally are coming from Auckland and Waikato in the north and Wellington and Manawatu in the south, places we know have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the country. There is no mechanism to track these travellers and to check if they have potentially been exposed to COVID-19, and this is a real concern for the iwi of Taranaki and the wider community,” says North Taranaki Iwi spokesperson Liana Poutu.
The iwi of Taranaki with the support of the Police commenced community checkpoints at Urenui and Pātea, and are operating a mobile Police patrol at the eastern entrance to Taranaki along the Forgotten World Highway (SH43).
The checkpoints encourage the appropriate Level 3 travel behaviour and provide an opportunity to educate travellers and to reduce any unnecessary travel into our region. Where travel has been deemed unnecessary some travellers have been asked to rethink their travel plans and return to their homes.
The local communities in Urenui and Pātea have embraced the operation of these checkpoints, with many locals volunteering at the checkpoints, being contracted as traffic controllers and local businesses who have opened under Level 3 being supported to provide catering at the sites.
The eight iwi of Taranaki have been working collaboratively with their Māori health providers to support and promote mobile flu vaccination clinics, mobile COVID-19 testing stations, whānau support lines and providing welfare support for vulnerable and rural communities. These community checkpoints are another aspect of the iwi response to COVID-19 in Taranaki.