By Alice Angeloni, Local Democracy Reporter
East Coast hapū are calling for authorities to declare a state of "regional emergency" to protect vulnerable Tairāwhiti communities from the highly infectious Delta variant.
Hapū and marae of Ngāti Porou want police-led checkpoints at the northern and southern boundaries of their rohe — from Potikirua near Wharekahika/Hicks Bay to Uawa/Tolaga Bay.
A letter signed by 32 East Coast marae calls for roaming police highway patrols to continue but asks that these are only done by fully vaccinated police.
Matakaoa Covid-19 response spokeswoman Ani Pahuru-Huriwai said this request was a critical step in preventing the virus from entering their rohe.
"Maybe it's not something that's been done before but these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures," she said.
"We want to be in front of the eight-ball, not behind it, and stop Delta from even reaching the Tairāwhiti.
"We're really hoping we get some traction on this to quell the anxiety that's rising about outsiders and tourists moving around the area who still think it's a holiday."
They strongly encouraged vaccinations.
"We appreciate the police support but we're concerned about the wellbeing of the officers and the risk [unvaccinated officers] present to the community," she said.
The Minister for Emergency Management must approve a local state of emergency for Covid-19.
Police-led checkpoints could be mandated under a local state of emergency.
Community checkpoints are illegal.
Police say 50 to 60 staff are patrolling Tairāwhiti.
The letter asked for Gisborne District Council's support in requesting the emergency declaration status. Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz and East Coast MP Kiri Allan were copied in.
It said the health profile of their community featured many factors that placed them in a "high risk" category.
"Although our Ngāti Porou vaccination rates are at 63 per cent for adults and pakeke [elders], our youth, children, infants and immuno-compromised whānau remain at high risk," the letter said.
"Additionally, as we have seen, breakthrough infections remain a possibility and level 4 compliance remains vital to ensure our safety."
The letter also proposed police use a community support person at each checkpoint.
This kaitiaki could provide local knowledge and connect with a network of contacts along Ngāti Porou and would isolate when not on shift.
A similar system started this week, involving a small number of community members assisting with police roaming patrols.
Gisborne police area commander Inspector Sam Aberahama said about 50 staff had received both doses of the vaccine, and 90 received their first dose on Friday.
That left about 40 police staff in Gisborne yet to receive a dose.
"There are plans in place to work with those staff," Aberahama said.
He said they would send staff to Ngāti Porou rohe who could do the work, and would ensure they were wearing personal protection equipment (PPE).
"They're doing their best to keep our community safe. I'm not about to judge anyone who hasn't been vaccinated yet.
"We are here as part of our community, keeping our community safe, taking every step to maximise protecting ourselves and others.
"Because some haven't been vaccinated, that's their choice. Some are in the process, some are planning and some may not, and that's just like in any work environment."
The letter notes that Covid-19 protection from the Pfizer vaccine takes two to three weeks to develop.
Stoltz said she understood and respected the request for a regional state of emergency but said the council would need approval from the minister to declare one.
She would not comment on whether a regional emergency would be appropriate.
"Our people are saving lives by following Covid-19 safety guidelines, staying home, getting tested and getting vaccinated.
"We have a very high rate of compliance across the region and I'm very proud of this," Stoltz said.
She would discuss the request with Allan, whom she had invited to the regional leadership hui today.
Allan's office said Kris Faafoi was still acting as the Minister for Emergency Management.