The Police Association fears that managing Auckland's regional boundary ahead of Christmas will be "a disaster" for the already over-stretched officers stationed at the checkpoints, with the Government yet to seek advice on the best way to manage the onslaught of Aucklanders desperate to escape.
The stricken region remains sealed off from the rest of the country as the epicentre of the ongoing outbreak of the Delta variant. People cannot leave or enter Auckland without an exemption certifying that their travel is for an essential purpose, with police-operated checkpoints stationed along the northern and southern border to ensure anyone coming or going has the relevant documents.
The future of the border has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with many Aucklanders - now enduring their eleventh week of lockdown - desperate to leave the region this summer to attend events, travel, or reunite with family and friends. However, the Government has yet to decisively announce if Aucklanders will be permitted to travel outside of the region for Christmas, with the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, revealing on Thursday that Cabinet has yet to seek advice on the matter.
Speaking to The AM Show on Thursday, Police Association President Chris Cahill said the prospect of vetting thousands of desperate Aucklanders clamouring to cross the boundary would be "a disaster" for police officers, many of whom are already over-stretched after months of monitoring the border.
"I'm very concerned," he told The AM Show.
If the regional boundary is opened in time for Christmas, it's not yet clear how it will be managed. It's understood the border will not be lifted entirely, but will be opened to allow through eligible people. It's understood motorists will be required to present proof of vaccination and evidence of a negative test at the checkpoint before passing.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told ZM the Government is in the process of working out a system that will allow vaccinated Aucklanders to resume interregional travel this summer. She suggested the border will remain in place, but those with a negative test and a vaccine certificate will be able to leave the region.
But Cahill said the idea of vetting every individual attempting to cross the border will likely cause chaos at the checkpoints.
"To be honest, the idea that you're going to have borders up and people are going to have to be double-vaxxed and [have negative] tests to get through, look it's a theory waiting to turn into a shambles from what I can see," he said.
Officers are already feeling fatigued and burnt out after months of manning the checkpoints, Cahill said - and managing an influx of Aucklanders desperate to escape the region will do little to ease their stress.
"Our members are pretty stretched, they're running out of steam, they've been at those borders since August. The idea that you're going to have thousands, tens of thousands of people trying to get through - I'm not convinced it's a good idea, to be honest."
On Wednesday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ's Checkpoint that the Government had been considering allocating time slots to double-jabbed Aucklanders wanting to leave the region. He said scheduled slots might help to manage queues at the border.
"We haven't made that decision yet. It's an option. We're just working through what the practical options are to ensure that we don't end up with people spending days sitting in their cars," Hipkins said.
"My message is, for those that are wanting to travel out of Auckland, they should expect it will be a reasonably time-consuming process if they're travelling via land."
But Cahill is not a fan of the suggestion.
"It's a theory waiting to turn into a disaster," he said.
Speaking to The AM Show following Cahill's interview, Dr Bloomfield said the Government has yet to seek advice on how the border will be managed over the summer break, but Cabinet will be convening later in November to assess the situation. He said a lot of the decision-making rides on when Auckland's three DHBs achieve 90 percent vaccination among their eligible populations.