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Wanaka’s central business district. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Wanaka’s central business district. PHOTO: ODT FILES
If Covid-19 Alert Level 4 has taught us anything, it is the meaning of the word ‘‘essential’’.

Well, most of us anyway, after the shocking and startling news that an Auckland couple deemed that a visit to a holiday home in Wanaka was an essential journey.

Many of the details of the couple’s southern sojourn remain a mystery, due both to an emergency suppression order sought by their QC and due to the authorities, which are revealing few facts about the case, presumably so as not to potentially sabotage any ensuing prosecution.

The Ministry of Health has at least, and at last, belatedly advised that the couple are deemed to pose a low health risk, although its spokesman was not specific on the question of whether or not they had been tested for Covid-19.

The risk, or otherwise, the couple posed to those in Wanaka or beyond should have been spelled out on Sunday, when news of their dubious bid for downtime broke.

The fact it took constant questioning by media for the public health risk level to finally be explained by the ministry late on Monday is unacceptable.

If there was a genuine health risk, the public needed to be told immediately.

Equally, the public should have been quickly reassured if it was deemed that there was no risk to their wellbeing.

Wanaka has already had a brush with Covid-19, it does not want another, and locals had to endure an anxious 24 hours which promptness and openness could have assuaged.

Further afield, mystery also surrounded exactly how the couple got from Hamilton, the end point of their drive beyond Auckland’s Level 4 border, to Wanaka.

With no direct air link, several other cities and towns were potentially visited by the couple en route.

Even if it was only briefly that matters not, given the oft-repeated advice that the Delta strain of Covid-19 which health officials are wrestling with is highly transmissible and can be passed on through the most fleeting of contact.

The guidelines for Alert Level 4, in which Auckland still lingers, are that travel is only permitted for people to get food or medicine, to get tested or vaccinated, or to go to work if you are deemed an essential worker.

While Wanaka has some extremely good supermarkets, this couple surely could shop in their own neighbourhood, and there is an abundance of vaccine and a plethora of frontline health workers in Auckland.

Nothing we have been told as yet suggests that either of these Aucklanders had essential work in Wanaka, something backed up by the fact that they were swiftly sent back from whence they came.

Advice on the Government’s Covid-19 website is that people can travel just outside their 5km bubble for welfare reasons, but only if they maintain strict health protocols.

Officials surely did not envisage a 1500km trip when they drafted that information, and if they had, the suggestion that if anyone else could carry out that task they should and that you should stay at home if possible is quite explicit.

On known facts, this case seems to be a staggering lapse of common sense from people who should have known better.

But beyond those individual lapses rests a wider concern that the supposedly secure cordon around Auckland could be breached so easily.

Wanaka civic leaders are right that this whole ill-judged episode not only posed a risk to people’s health but also had the potential to send struggling hospitality and tourism businesses to the wall.

The rest of New Zealand is utterly sympathetic with Aucklanders as they endure their latest and longest lockdown, and southerners want nothing more than for them to be able to come and visit our alpine resorts.

But not right now please, and certainly not like this.

Comments

In an agrarian country, it is conceivable that a Studmaster, someone involved with horse breeding, would be deemed to be in essential industry.

Yes it is, but having an essential job in an essential industry and an approved travel pass to perform that job does not give you a free rein to travel around on non essential activities and the couple have admitted that their travel was non essential. So your point is moot.

The interesting thing to me will be observing how the justice system handles the case of the couple travelling to wanaka against the couple travelling to northland. The first being a privileged white couple with direct links to the legal system, the other couple, Maori.
The Maori couple travelling to northland have been remanded in custody, the privileged white couple have yet to be charged.
Hhmmmmm…

Maybe it was because they refused to stop at a police roadblock and had to have their car spiked that made the difference rather than their ethnicity.

In ODT today, they drove to Hamilton on (yeah really) essential business then "The couple took a commercial flight to Queenstown via Wellington, then rented a vehicle and drove to Wanaka." How many level 2 people did they encounter on the way?

"The pair confirmed they tested negative for Covid-19 before crossing the border" and, luckily, when they got back.
As far as I know the test only shows whether a person has the virus at the time of testing. It does not give them immunity from catching it within minutes of exiting the test clinic. Covid Delta spreads at incredible speed and with very brief exposure to an infected person. I hope the fact that they had been tested negative before skipping the Auckland lockdown is not used to minimise the potential risk they posed to Wanaka people plus the people on the plane, airports and car rental agency,

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