By Karina Cooper
Border restrictions severing Northland from Auckland are like a prison wall with every third window open, according to Northland community leader Hone Harawira.
But police responsible for the borders reject the comparison, saying breaches are rare and compliance is high.
The Tai Tokerau Border Control (TTBC) founder and former MP's comments come as two women – who both tested positive for the virus - slipped the border using travel exemptions issued in error by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hinted that the women may have used false information to obtain the exemptions.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said MSD had approved and then revoked the women's border exemption but they were already in Northland.
A second unrelated incident revealed by the Advocate on Tuesday saw an Auckland woman conceal herself in the boot of the car to cross north through the border.
"The problem is the authorities have left every third window of the prison open and they're blaming every prisoner," Harawira said.
He feared the region's low vaccination rates and Māori health inequities would be exploited by the Covid-19 virus because under-resourced police struggled to stymie border breaches.
But those metaphorical windows could be shut, according to Harawira, if authorities allowed iwi-led border control groups such as TTBC to "have a say" in travel exemption applications for Tai Tokerau.
"Whānau has been sending messages to their Auckland whānau saying 'stay there, we love you but let's get this s*** out of the way first'."
But pleas were been ignored and exemption applications were sent to the Ministry of Health anyway.
"Especially for tangis, we're seeing people wanting to come up – not checking with whānau - and applying for exemptions with the ministry," Harawira said.
"Their whānau want the chance to be able to say please don't come up, we'll live stream it, and to be heard. Instead, we're running open doors."
The intimate intel iwi had about their communities would mean people would have a harder time flouting the rules unseen once in Tai Tokerau, Harawira said.
"I know an orchardist who came up my way with a business exemption. He spent 10 minutes looking at the orchard and waving a stick, then the rest of the day was out fishing..."
"It's not everybody but we are getting people who are bending the rules," he said.
Inspector John Thornley, Tāmaki Makaurau road policing manager, reported that around one per cent of the total 626,086 vehicles stopped at the 10 checkpoints since August had been turned around.
Yesterday saw 27 vehicles from a total of 4632 turned around at the Northern checkpoints, while 106 vehicles out of 18,486 were turned around at the Southern checkpoints.
"It's important to note that overall compliance has been extremely high," Thornley said.
He thanked travellers who had stuck to the rules but reprimanded the "disappointing" "handful of cases" who'd provided police with false information to cross boundaries.
"It's important to recognise that these incidents are very rare, and when we are aware of these incidents we take necessary action and follow up with those involved."
Thornley said officers were able to search vehicles under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, which provided additional inspection powers on top of the Search and Surveillance Act.
Motorists were only permitted through checkpoints if they had evidence of permitted travel. And in some cases, evidence of either a negative Covid test result from no more than 72 hours old, or evidence of a Covid test taken in the last seven days before travel.
People needed to apply for an exemption to cross an Alert 3 boundary to attend a funeral or tangihanga.
Personal travel exemptions are issued through the Ministry of Health, and business travel exemptions are managed by The Ministry of Business and Innovation or the Ministry of Social Development.
For more on the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine and other things you need to know, listen to our podcast, Science Digest with Michelle Dickinson.