A honeymoon couple are among visitors wanting to cancel their rental accommodation in Northland as a direct result of an iwi-initiated roadside centre in the Mid North.
Accommodation providers, particularly in Kerikeri, began fielding calls for cancellations after news of a checkpoint to be set up by the Tai Tokerau Border Control at Waiomio, 4km south of Kawakawa, yesterday.
Police stopped the border control volunteers, including former MP Hone Harawira, who set up the roadside centre and used cones to divert traffic off the road and into a layby where motorists heading north were given information about Covid, about an hour after they started pulling cars over.
Police said while Harawira's group has good intentions, there was no need for any Covid community checkpoints while New Zealand was on alert level 1.
The aim of the checkpoint was not to stop people and turn them around but to pass on information about how Northlanders felt about Covid, concerns about the South African variant, and to tell them where to go to for a test while they were in the Far North District.
But Vanessa Owen, owner of Driftwood Seaside Escapes which offers self-catering baches in Kerikeri, said some guests were nervous about making the trip north from Auckland.
"There are people wanting to cancel and I am struggling with my conscience on what to do. It's a big weekend and guests booked four to five months ago. One is a honeymoon couple and they are asking for a refund.
"Like everyone else during and after the lockdown, we've had a challenging season. There are a lot of nervous people around who are asking if they get stopped at the checkpoint, what are they going to do. It's not a legal roadblock," Owen said.
The honeymoon couple was expected to come to Kerikeri tomorrow whereas her other guests who wanted to cancel had a booking from today.
Motorists who pulled over said they didn't have any issues with the work border control volunteers were doing to protect the community.
Birthday boy Jamie Burgess was heading from Whangārei to Kerikeri for a family lunch with his girlfriend Nicola Burrows said he saw nothing wrong with people raising awareness about the danger of Covid.
Megan Turner was on a business trip to Paihia said it was a good interaction and that the border control volunteers were not confrontational at all.
An annoyed Harawira labelled the police's action as "heavy-handed tactics" and called on the police upper echelon to reconsider their position otherwise his border control volunteers would have to take whatever action they deemed necessary to ensure their communities were protected.
"The fact that somebody has made a decision to try to treat this South African strain as being a normal flu is an insult to the intelligence of the people of the country, and the people of Tai Tokerau, an insult to the integrity of those on border control who are doing their best to try and inform the public.
"Somebody from higher up has made this decision. I think it's the wrong decision and I am concerned the people of Tai Tokerau may suffer as a result of heavy-handedness of the police, and unnecessarily so."
Asked about the legality of the checkpoint, he said: "For us, the disappointing thing is the police have the authority to put up checkpoints for firearms, alcohol, licences, warrants, registrations and so on and I have to say in terms of a virus like this, there's nothing more important than this virus since the Spanish flu of 1918.
"So what's the problem. This is not a blockade. We're made that very, very clear."
Harawira said police have got nothing planned themselves to protect the people of Tai Tokerau, to look after the kaumātua and kuia, even though they have the authority to run checkpoints.
"That means police, with the support of the Government, committed to allowing tens of thousands of visitors into Northland without providing them with any information, testing capacity over the long weekend, or testing centres north of Whangārei."
Prior to setting up the checkpoint, Harawira said their aim was not to stop people and turn them around but to pass on information about how Northlanders felt about Covid, concerns about the South African variant, and to tell them where to go to for a test.
His view is that the Government is being "blase" about the South African strain very well and is not shutting down the border to international travellers, unlike Australia.
"That's a huge concern. We've got people coming out of managed isolation with the South African strain and some of them are tested once, testing twice, then getting out and finding out they've got it which means the Government doesn't have control over how people are being managed through this process."
He said Waitangi Day should be cancelled as a lot of iwi leaders, politicians, and diplomats have signalled they wouldn't be attending.
Police Far North area commander Inspector Riki Whiu said their focus was to prioritise the safety of all by ensuring pedestrians were safe on the roadside and motorists were not prevented from driving on a state highway which has a 100km/h speed limit.
He said police engaged with the group when attempts were made to prevent traffic flowing.
"We are continuing our dialogue with the group involved which is positive and ongoing. As we have previously said, we are all coming to this kaupapa from the same place – out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in our community."