National | Northland

'You may as well send up body bags' - northern leaders on softening Auckland border

Iwi leaders in the North say they have "grave concerns" over the announcement that December 15 will be the day Aucklanders who are vaccinated or can provide a negative Covid 19 test will be able to travel beyond the border.

Northland is a popular destination in the summer months. The race is on to get the vaccinations up in Te Tai Tokerau.

As of Thursday, 58% of the eligible Māori population in Northland is fully vaccinated, with more than 16,000 Māori yet to be fully vaccinated to reach the 90% target.

The Māori leaders' forum in the North, Te Kahu o Taonui raised their concerns in a statement.

Ngāti Kahu chair Professor Mākere Mutu says it's not the responsibility of Te Kahu o Taonui to check vaccination statuses.

“Te Tai Tokerau will not be the collateral damage - you might as well send body bags," she said.

Aperahama Edwards says the risk is too great to agree that this is a good move. He urges northern relations who reside in Auckland wanting to go north, to hold off.

'Don't come home'

“We at home here are saying to wait. We’re doing our best to get vaccination numbers up for Māori as a means of protection.”

After months of lobbying and conveying their concerns to the government, he says the government is hearing them but isn’t listening.

“It isn’t right to merely open the borders for Northland to be flooded with people from Auckland who may bring the virus,” he says.

Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoffrey Milner is focused on the race to get vaccinations up but says timing is everything.

“The government appears to be less flexible about shifting that goal line and the potential flow-on when we get tens of thousands of whanau coming back, who are desperate to come back home.”

Northern leaders are not only sharing their concerns but they’re also certain there are other measures that can minimise risk.

“Cap the numbers of people who can come up so that officials are able to manage the people coming north, and see if they're meeting their obligations to come up here.”