Coronavirus: Why Kaitaia locals flooded the streets this week, despite lockdown

Former MP Hone Harawira says outspoken doctor Lance O'Sullivan is right to be appalled at the number of people out and about in Kaitaia, despite the COVID-19 lockdown.

But he reckons there's a simple explanation for why so many people were out and about. 

"There's far too many people on the road, far too many cars," Dr O'Sullivan said in a video posted to his Facebook page from Kaitaia on Wednesday. "You know this is not a lockdown, this is a joke."

Without a vaccine or effective treatment, the only way to stop the virus spreading at the moment is through social distancing and limiting travel in public. Harawira - no stranger to controversy himself - has set up what he's calling the Tai Tokerau Border Control, which has volunteers manning checkpoints around the area, which is more than 40 percent Māori.

Māori are statistically more likely to have underlying health conditions that puts them at risk of complications should they contract COVID-19, which has killed more than 46,000 people worldwide so far.

"If they see somebody who's not local, they just politely go up to them and say, 'Can I have your name? Do you have any identification? How long have you been in the country?" Harawira told The AM Show on Thursday.

"And if they've really only been here a short time, we try to turn them back to where they've come from. Or else we try to get their details so we can pass them on to the police."

He says the police have backed the somewhat vigilante movement - which has no actual legal power - to restrict the virus' spread in Northland.

"I had the area commander call in at home yesterday for a korero and coffee, and I'm staying in touch with him regularly." 

Harawira says supplies and emergency services are waved through the checkpoints, but everyone else is stopped "for a few seconds just to find out who they are. If they're locals, no problem."

Except when they are a problem. 

"One guy decided to blast through at 100km/h. The boys recognised the number, they recognised the person - they're going to have a korero to the police and have them go around and see that person afterwards. Ninety-nine percent of those coming on the roads understand absolutely what they're doing and probably 95 percent of them are really, really supportive."

As for O'Sullivan's observation in Kaitaia, Harawira has some sympathy for those flouting isolation rules.

"A lot of the traffic is local. Yesterday and today are particularly different, because the banks were open yesterday and open today. A lot of people have been without food and other stuff for more than a week now, so they've taken the opportunity to come into town, get some money and go and buy some groceries, etc etc. 

"I'm hoping that once all of those close down, the roads go back to looking like a Sunday."