Health Minister Chris Hipkins says he is not comfortable with Aucklanders travelling to conferences in Queenstown and has called on the city's residents to "do the right thing".

It comes after the Otago Daily Times revealed a conference held in Queenstown - which includes Aucklanders as guests - is going ahead despite calls from the Prime Minister for travelling Aucklanders to avoid mass gatherings.

The conference is within the rules, but has prompted concerns from a prominent epidemiologist.

Asked if he was comfortable with Aucklanders going to conferences in Queenstown, Hipkins said: "No is the simple answer to that.


"We are asking Aucklanders to continue to take their alert level restrictions with them."

Chris Hipkins says the Government is asking Aucklanders to
Chris Hipkins says the Government is asking Aucklanders to "play their part". Photo / Mark Mitchell

The alert level restrictions in Auckland meant people should not be attending gatherings of more than 10 people in the city, he said.

"So if Aucklanders are travelling to other parts of the country the same rules should apply."

The Government was asking for "goodwill" from Aucklanders, he said.

"We are asking for Aucklanders to play their part as they have done over the last three weeks in keeping the country safe.

"There is never going to be a 100 per cent enforceable system when it comes to these types of restrictions so we are asking people to do the right thing."

'It's not in the spirit' of PM's advice - epidemiologist

The Morgo conference is being held at the Heritage Hotel tomorrow and Friday and is aimed at tech companies working to expand offshore.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker was critical of the conference going ahead and said it was evidence of the need for a travel ban from Auckland while the current outbreak was being brought under control.


While within the rules, holding a conference or a similar event with Auckland guests appeared to contravene Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's comments, Baker said.

"It's not in the spirit of our Prime Minister's recommendation that people head off from Auckland and go to conferences."

Professor Michael Baker was critical of the conference going ahead. Photo / File
Professor Michael Baker was critical of the conference going ahead. Photo / File

Given Auckland was the centre of the outbreak, people from the city should "question everything they are doing in terms of whether it is exposing others to risk", he said.

However, it was dangerous to put the onus on individuals to act responsibly and instead the Government needed to mandate safe behaviour — such as limiting travel from Auckland.

"The Government is there to make these hard calls."

Morgo conference organiser Jenny Morel did not say how many Aucklanders were attending the event, but pointed out rules on the Government's Unite against Covid-19 website and said visits to public and event venues were not "social gatherings".


This specifically included visits to conference venues.

"It is social gatherings that are restricted to 10 people in Auckland and therefore of concern to the Government," Morel said.

"However, events such as Morgo — conferences — are not restricted beyond the standard Level 2 protocols and allow for 100 people anywhere in New Zealand.

"This means that we could even run Morgo with 100 people in Auckland in compliance with the regulations.

"The travel requirements also say don't travel to events that don't meet the Level 2 requirements, which Morgo does," Morel said.

There was no reference to mass gatherings on the Government website, which instead talked about limits on social gatherings.


Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Susan Jack said her organisation acknowledged conference venues and hotels would want to get back to business as much as possible.

That was "important for both the region's economy and the wellbeing of the wider community", she said.

However, Dr Jack said Southern DHB asked all those in Queenstown involved in mass gatherings, including conferences, to adhere to the guidelines for events at Level 2.

"Our expectation is that conference organisers need to manage this situation."

Baker said when it came people travelling from Auckland generally, each individual was very unlikely to spread Covid-19, but given so many people were leaving the city to travel around the country the risk became more significant.

He believed it would not be long before travel from Auckland would be safe again.


"If we can maintain another couple of weeks of very intense focus on stamping out that outbreak in Auckland and minimising its spread we will beat it.

"Unfortunately everything about the pandemic is very disruptive and expensive, but if it starts to spread in other parts of New Zealand that is a terrible outcome that we really want to avoid."