Te Whānau-ā-Apanui closes borders to non-essential travellers

By Jessica Tyson

Bay of Plenty iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui is urging non-essential travellers to avoid coming into its territory.

It comes after growing concerns amid increased cases of community transmission of Covid-19 in Auckland.

The head general practitioner at Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Community Clinic, Dr Rachel Thomson, says with confirmed transmission of the virus in Auckland there are much higher chances it will spread to other areas.

“We need to reduce the risk of the coronavirus entering our community,” she says.

For now, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui will be closed to all non-residents, including travellers, campers and visitors.

The iwi will allow travellers to drive through SH35 without stopping and it is preparing to establish a hapū response team to ensure people are observing the guidelines.

Iwi spokesperson Rawiri Waititi says, "We are aware of the evidence that a second wave of the virus is likely to affect Māori. We will be hit harder because we have less access to equitable healthcare.”

Te Whānau-ā-Apanui is an isolated iwi on the Eastern Bay of Plenty, home to a high population of people at risk. Waititi says the nearest hospital is a two-hour drive away.

“History tells us that we cannot be loose in the way we respond to this second wave.”

Te Whānau-ā-Apanui's Covid-19 Iwi Response Unit has met regularly and has been in constant consultation with all hapū chairpersons of the iwi to determine key decisions in response to Covid-19.

“We cannot afford to leave the fate of our people in the hands of others. In the first outbreak we took it upon ourselves to close our borders for the protection of our people well before the Prime Minister closed the country’s borders. It was our intention then to keep Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Covid-19 free and we achieved that and we will continue to do what it takes to keep our people alive."

Waititi says the Iwi Response Unit is aware of the potential risks involved in making such a strong stance while the government’s advice is to remain at Level 2.

“The Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Covid-19 Iwi Response Unit is not ruling out the establishment of checkpoints and community safety zones and says it is prepared to do so if and when required but istrusting New Zealanders to do the right thing and stay put and not enter into the iwi area for anything other than to pass through.”