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Health Minister Chris Hipkins says he is not comfortable with Aucklanders travelling to conferences in Queenstown and has called on the city's residents to "do the right thing".

It comes after the Otago Daily Times revealed a conference held in Queenstown which includes Aucklanders as guests — is going ahead despite calls from the Prime Minister for travelling Aucklanders to avoid mass gatherings.

The conference is within the rules, but has prompted concerns from a prominent epidemiologist.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ
Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ
Asked if he was comfortable with the Aucklanders going to conferences in Queenstown, Mr Hipkins said:

"No is the simple answer to that.

"We are asking Aucklanders to continue to take their alert level restrictions with them."

The alert level restrictions in Auckland meant people should not be attending gatherings of more than ten people in the city, he said.

"So if Aucklanders are travelling to other parts of the country the same rules should apply."

The Government was asking for "good will" from Aucklanders, he said.

"We are asking for Aucklanders to play their part as they have done over the last three weeks in keeping the country safe.

"There is never going to be a 100% enforceable system when it comes to these types of restrictions so we are asking people to do the right thing."

'It’s not in the spirit' of PM's advice - epidemiologist

The Morgo conference is being held at the Heritage Hotel tomorrow and Friday and is aimed at tech companies working to expand offshore.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker was critical of the conference going ahead and said it was evidence of the need for a travel ban from Auckland while the current outbreak was being brought under control.

While within the rules, holding a conference or a similar event with Auckland guests appeared to contravene Ms Ardern’s comments, Prof Baker said.

Prof Michael Baker. Photo: University of Otago, Wellington
Prof Michael Baker. Photo: University of Otago, Wellington

"It’s not in the spirit of our Prime Minister’s recommendation that people head off from Auckland and go to conferences."

Given Auckland was the centre of the outbreak, people from the city should "question everything they are doing in terms of whether it is exposing others to risk", he said.

However, it was dangerous to put the onus on individuals to act responsibly and instead the Government needed to mandate safe behaviour — such as limiting travel from Auckland.

"The Government is there to make these hard calls."

Morgo conference organiser Jenny Morel did not say how many Aucklanders were attending the event, but pointed out rules on the Government’s Unite against Covid-19 website and said visits to public and event venues were not "social gatherings".

This specifically included visits to conference venues.

"It is social gatherings that are restricted to 10 people in Auckland and therefore of concern to the Government," Ms Morel said.

"However, events such as Morgo — conferences — are not restricted beyond the standard Level 2 protocols and allow for 100 people anywhere in New Zealand.

"This means that we could even run Morgo with 100 people in Auckland in compliance with the regulations.

"The travel requirements also say don’t travel to events that don’t meet the Level 2 requirements, which Morgo does," Ms Morel said.

There was no reference to mass gatherings on the Government website, which instead talked about limits on social gatherings.

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Susan Jack said her organisation acknowledged conference venues and hotels would want to get back to business as much as possible.

That was "important for both the region’s economy and the wellbeing of the wider community", she said.

However, Dr Jack said Southern DHB asked all those in Queenstown involved in mass gatherings, including conferences, to adhere to the guidelines for events at Level 2.

"Our expectation is that conference organisers need to manage this situation."

Prof Baker said when it came people travelling from Auckland generally, each individual was very unlikely to spread Covid-19, but given so many people were leaving the city to travel around the country the risk became more significant.

He believed it would not be long before travel from Auckland would be safe again.

"If we can maintain another couple of weeks of very intense focus on stamping out that outbreak in Auckland and minimising its spread we will beat it.

"Unfortunately everything about the pandemic is very disruptive and expensive, but if it starts to spread in other parts of New Zealand that is a terrible outcome that we really want to avoid."

hugh.collins@odt.co.nz

 

Comments

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So Ms Morel puts personal profit ahead of the countries well being. We have seen that gatherings of people increase the likelihood of community transmission tenfold. Thru her selfish actions, people like her are the very reason why the Govt have to make draconian rules that affect everyone.

Disgraceful that the organisers of this event have chosen to put their own selfish interests above the health and safety of eveyone else. What's more concerning is that one of the "Community Partners" of Morgo is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Surely they cannot be seen to support this event. The government should step in now and ban it.

This is why the government has to bring in harsh restrictions, because people like this Jenny Morel refuse to use common sense, as they put profits and their personal greed above all else.
Will Jenny Morel agree to meet all costs that may arise if this conference causes a problem? Or will she expect the taxpayers to pick up the costs?

Well duh! If the govt didn't want them to go out of Auckland they shouldn't have let them out. We don't want them in the S Island!

Too. Late. Minister.

Irresponsible thing to do given the circumstances. This just proves that common sense is not common.

And just like that the virus is back in the community at large causing another lvl 4 lockdown, when will this govt ever learn???.

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