Coronavirus: Waiheke residents fear mainland Aucklanders, with nowhere else to go, will bring COVID-19 to the island

By Nita Blake-Persen for RNZ

Waiheke Islanders want to break from Auckland's lockdown and bring in a localised border.

The island has never had a case of COVID-19, and locals fear that the easing of alert level restrictions could see thousands of Aucklanders flock there while regional boundaries are still in place.

From 11:59pm Tuesday, Aucklanders will be able to connect with people outside their bubble outdoors, and people can move around Auckland for recreation, like visiting the beach or hunting.

The chair of Waiheke's local board, Cath Handley, said they had written to the Government to formally request a border be put in place, like those at the city's Northland and Waikato boundaries.

She said there are major concerns about what a case would do to the island, which has one supermarket and limited medical services.

"If somebody, for instance, with COVID-19 were to use one of our ambulances, that takes the ambulance out. The trouble with us is we only have a couple of ambulances, so it really does tax our services," she said.

With regional borders still in place, and no timeline of when they would be lifted, Handley said Waiheke would be a popular destination for Aucklanders.

"Aucklanders can't go north, can't go south to Taupō or Rotorua for a weekend or the school holidays, and they can't go to the Coromandel.

"Waiheke is one of the few destinations left that they could go to and I think that the numbers that we'll be looking at would be phenomenal."

The local economy had taken a massive hit from the lack of tourists, and Handley said businesses were determined to go into the peak summer season without any sign of COVID-19.

Bringing strict border checks in at the ferry terminals, including proof of a COVID-19 test and a reason for essential travel, would allow Waiheke to drop to level 2 immediately, she said.

Concerns around the risk visiting Aucklanders bring is shared on Aotea Great Barrier - which is also in Tāmaki Makaurau's boundaries.

The local board chair there, Izzy Fordham, said while they are yet to make any formal application about borders, locals are nervous about Aucklanders returning.

"We see it enough times when tummy bugs come, for example, how rapidly they spread through the island and the same with your general colds and flus.. so I shudder to think what Delta would do to a community like ours," she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today said the Government would talk to regional officials about any border requests but they had not discussed any intra-regional borders.

In a statement, Mayor Phil Goff said while the request from Waiheke's local board had gone to government, it did not seem practicable to have one part of Auckland at a different alert level from others. 

He said he would be supportive of an enhanced police presence at ferry terminals to enforce the rules, if people were not following them.

A spokesperson for Fullers360 said they are still clarifying what the eased restrictions mean for ferry services and public transport.