COVID-19: Grant Robertson slams Aucklanders driving outside of the city for testing to avoid queues

Lengthy lines and congestion around testing centres have driven some desperate Aucklanders to extremes - with reports emerging on social media of people flouting the rules in order to avoid the queues.

According to anecdotes shared online, it appears a number of Aucklanders have been travelling outside of the city in order to skip the lines at local testing centres. 

As the vast majority of cases are being detected in Auckland, demand for testing in the city has been particularly high - with some forced to queue for eight hours last week. After sitting in line for hours, some locals said they were turned away as it reached closing time - and were forced to return the following day for another gruelling wait.

According to comments shared to several community groups on Facebook, a number of Aucklanders travelled to Hamilton over the weekend in a bid to avoid the congestion. With cases only detected in Auckland and Wellington so far, testing demand has been lower in unaffected regions, such as Waikato.

On Monday, one woman shared to a Franklin community group that she had travelled to Hamilton that morning in order to seek a test. 

"No regrets, lovely three-hour round trip," she wrote. 

The woman said she spent less than an hour at the pop-up testing station at the Claudelands Event Centre.

"I figured I would rather our bubble get tested and get results back quickly since two family members have been in two different places of interest, therefore are considered a priority," she said.

"Yes, I know we are meant to stay local and I got flamed by some gronk on another page, but we did not get out of the car, we wore masks at the testing place and it went smoothly."

The woman claimed "quite a few people" from the Pukekohe area had travelled to Hamilton for the same reason. The south Auckland suburb has been directly affected by the outbreak, with a staff member at Pukekohe High School testing positive last week. On Sunday, it was announced that two additional testing stations had been established for the community after reports of significant congestion at other local centres.

In another local community group, the same woman urged other locals to avoid the queues and "go to Hamilton". She reiterated that she had worn a mask and did not leave the car during the trip, and claimed that testing staff in Hamilton had been "more than happy" to swab the group.

"Rather get tested there than be turned away in Pukekohe," she continued. "Many people drove down to Hamilton today. Stay local = stay in the queue until next week!"

Another woman replied: "I did that this morning. There and back in three hours."

Responding to another comment chastising her for travelling outside of Auckland, the woman said: "There is no law about travel. You can travel if it's essential.

"[I] didn't leave the car and wore a mask at [the] testing station. Nowhere for the virus to jump."

Another woman added: "We went to Hamilton, beautiful drive and no wait time."

When someone called her out for "unnecessary travel", she replied: "We needed to get tested and were turned around yesterday. We didn't exit the car or stop anywhere so [there's] no chance of spreading anything if we happen to be positive."

She echoed the previous anecdote by claiming they "weren't the only ones" to make the trip - "as told by the team conducting the tests".

According to the Unite against COVID-19 website, an official Government source, travel is only permitted for essential reasons under alert level 4  - "to get food or medicine, to get tested or vaccinated, or to go to work if you are an alert level 4 worker".

"You are allowed to leave home to access health services, including: COVID-19 vaccination appointments, to get a COVID-19 test, emergency or critical healthcare, [or] other health services that cannot be accessed remotely, e.g. through phone consultation."

However, leaving the home to get tested does not mean leaving the city. Under alert level 4, "all types of transport and travel are restricted", including inter-regional travel. Grocery shopping, exercise or getting a test is meant to be undertaken locally, and people are discouraged from leaving their immediate community or neighbourhood.

Speaking at the 1pm press conference on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was questioned by a reporter about what the Government was doing to address Aucklanders travelling outside of the city for testing, citing other anecdotes of people reportedly driving to Thames. 

Robertson said there was "ample opportunity" for people to get tested in the city, with "significant additional testing capacity" provided in the region.

"There is no way that it is a good idea to get in your car and drive to Thames - all manner of things could occur," Robertson said.

"You could break down, there could be other issues that happen there. We just ask people to be patient, we recognise that there will be a wait sometimes when you're getting tested - those wait times have been coming down, because we have added significant capacity."

The Ministry of Health has been contacted for comment.