Te Pati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said a Covid 19 outbreak in Whakatāne would be “catastrophic” after an Aucklander was found to have fled the city’s level 4 lockdown for the Bay of Plenty town this week.
Police found the Aucklander overnight on Monday and the person was taken into custody, the Whakatane Beacon reported.
Senior Sergeant Al Fenwick said he was unable to make any further comments on the specifics of the person’s visit – if they were alone, why they were in Whakatāne, and where they had been because the matter was under investigation and police might prosecute.
The Whakatane Beacon understood the person visited a number of stores and contacted the Whakatāne Work and Income office.
Waititi said Whakatāne had limited health resources.
“It would be devastating for townships like Whakatāne and neighbouring rural areas that don’t have the capacity or the resources to address an outbreak if it happened,” he said.
“Every action and decision we make, we need to think about the consequences.”
He said it was like the “selfish” act of the Auckland couple that fled to Wanaka.
Waititi said vaccinations were the way to add a layer of protection.
“If you didn’t like lockdown, get a jab. If you really didn’t like lockdown, get two jabs.”
While he felt for those still in lockdown, he said it was simple expectation for Aucklanders: “stay put”.
“It’s for the greater good and the greater good of their whānau.”
When asked today about an Aucklander fleeing to Whakatane, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the issue fell with New Zealand Police who enforced lockdown rules.
He said he would not comment on the case specifically, particularly if a prosecution was looming.
“The vast majority of people in Auckland are doing it tough for the rest of the country and we thank them for that.
“If a handful aren’t, they are undermining the collective team effort and they shouldn’t.”
MSD regional commissioner, Mike Bryant, told the Whakatane Beacon the ministry could confirm a client from Auckland made contact with Work and Income, and said they had travelled to Whakatāne.
“We got in touch with police and encouraged the client to visit the local police station,” he said.
Bryant said the client did not visit the Pyne St service centre.
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner said it was “very disappointing behaviour” and put the community at risk despite their hard work to do everything they needed to do to keep safe.
The first she heard of the case was when asked by the Rotorua Daily Post.
“It’s a big let down … they’ll get what’s coming to them.”
Her biggest concerns were now whether or not the person was infectious, and how many people and businesses they visited and potentially impacted.
She said she was thrilled with the response of the police.
Police are following instructions from the Ministry of Health and the person has undergone Covid-19 testing. They will be taken back to Auckland.
Fenwick said it was disappointing these people would blatantly break the rules.
“Every one of these people who do this are putting our community at risk. It’s very selfish, people just need to do the right thing,” he said.
“Even if they don’t have Covid it presents as an opportunity for it to come into our community and that’s the last thing we want.”
Eastern Bay of Plenty resident Bryan Gould said Whakatāne had had a “tough” time over the last few years; “this is the last thing we need”.
He said locals had been following the restrictions and requirements “extremely well” from what he had seen.
“It would be a shame if someone spoilt it for everyone.”
He said he and his wife had been going to Whakatāne without a sense of insecurity, and he was unsure if this would change.
Gould said this was the same situation as the couple who flew to Wanaka and was “selfish” as it risked individuals, community and businesses.
Anyone who knows people from the Auckland region who have come to the Eastern Bay are asked to report them directly to police via 105 or call the Whakatāne station.
-ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HAZEL OSBORNE AT THE WHAKATANE BEACON
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