Coronavirus: North Island iwi warned against blocking major state highway

Police are warning a North Island iwi against shutting off State Highway 35 to all non-residents in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 from infecting their 200 people.  

Te Whānau-ā-Apanui is on lockdown and closing their borders to all non-residents. 

"The evidence that we have in regards to the impact that the influenza had on our people in 1918 and what we're trying to do is mitigate the risk of that happening again," says iwi leader Rawiri Waititi.

"It had catastrophic implications on our people."

The iwi is terrified the worst could happen if COVID-19 spreads to their community.  

They were hit hard in the 1918 Spanish Flu that still to this day has killed the most New Zealanders in the shortest space of time - and don't want a repeat.

"We're pleading [for] those that live outside of the iwi have compassion for those who live inside because we have 200 of the most vulnerable people living inside the iwi here and we want to mitigate the risk of this potential virus within the iwi."

They plan to shut off State Highway 35, only allowing access for residents.

Police have issued a statement saying: "We know the community is very concerned about COVID-19, but this is illegal."

The Prime Minister preferring to stress the risks that every community is running. But her message was listen to the advice from health authorities, and do not panic.

"Just think about your grandparents, think about someone in your family group or friendship group who might have compromised immunity," she said.

"It's not just about if you're worried for yourself, its that you should be worried about those around you, so please take it seriously, it's about saving lives."