Police and local council are working with a Bay of Plenty iwi to implement a rāhui in its efforts to protect vulnerable community members from Covid-19.

Te Whānau-ā-Apanui iwi leader Rawiri Waititi announced the 24-hour a day manned closure of its borders to all outsiders at the weekend.

No one outside of the about 1000 residents would be allowed to enter the territory from midnight March 25 for two months.

Iwi leader Rikirangi Gage said the move was in line with the tradition of protecting vulnerable community members in dangerous times.


"This rāhui is a measured and logical response to the risk posed by the coronavirus to protect the older and more vulnerable members of our community.

"Our demographics and our circumstances mean that this was the strongest measure we could take at this time.

"For us, it is about creating a safe zone and avoiding the spread of the virus."


Posted by Te Whanau a Apanui Covid-19 Iwi Response on Friday, 20 March 2020

Teams of five or six community members will man the western territory border at Hawai, and the eastern border at Potaka 24 hours a day.

With around 200 residents in the community aged over 65 years, the measures are aimed at keeping them safe.

"Knowing who is coming through our tribal lands is part of that, tracking movements and contact, and giving advice to workers and so on about only stopping at the public toilets or not visiting kaumatua," Gage said.

"At the end of the day, common sense will guide our actions to stop the spread."

Police and the Ōpōtiki District Council were working with the iwi to ensure essential services would continue in isolated communities while keeping the risk of Covid-19 transmission low.


The role of police was to support this cultural response to the pandemic, Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha said.

"No one has set out to establish illegal roadblocks, this is about community police and Iwi taking the lead to ensure rural communities that don't have immediate access to support services are well protected.

"This is Te Whānau a Apanui taking a strong leadership role and we want to model what it looks like when iwi, police, councils and other agencies work in partnership."

Everyone was coming to this kaupapa (policy) from the same place – out of a need to protect the most vulnerable in the community, he said.

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The doors will close to campers, tourists, outside fishermen, cyclists and holidaymakers until May 25 - when the restrictions would be reassessed.


Te Whānau a Apanui leadership would track and, where necessary, restrict travel through the rohe from Hāwai to Pōtaka in the eastern Bay of Plenty, Waititi said.

Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer said the parties met today to shape an informal "working group" on the measures.

"It was really important that we approached this with open minds and community well-being at the front of all our thinking," she said.

"Once you put people first, then all other actions flow from that. I completely understand Te Whānau a Apanui's desire to protect their greatest taonga, their kaumatua, and we want to work alongside them as, at the end of the day, that is what we all want to do."

Māori communities have been disproportionately impacted by disease and previous pandemics have hurt the community, she said.

"And Te Whānau a Apanui have a unique set of circumstances around access, land ownership, and geographical isolation."

Focus: How to stop the spread of coronavirus. Video / AP / Mark Mitchell

Food, medical and other supplies via courier will be excluded from the border closure, but will be instructed to interact with as few Te Whānau-ā-Apanui residents as possible while dropping off cargo.

Further talks will be held with health and transport authorities to ensure everyone is "on the same page", Gage said.

"We have plans in place for kiwifruit workers, workers who leave our lands for their own work, council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council services like drinking water testing and rubbish."

All marae in the iwi territory are closed indefinitely.