COVID-19 sweeps through New Zealand's underground with gangs at heart of Waikato Delta outbreak

COVID-19 is sweeping through New Zealand's underground, with gangs at the heart of the Waikato outbreak, which has spread beyond Raglan and Hamilton to Kawhia and Karapiro.

The gang epidemic helps explain why the Government granted two special exemptions to cross the Auckland boundary for senior Mongrel Mob members. 

Sonny Fatupaito, King of the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom, wore PPE as he went door knocking and spread the word about the spread of COVID-19. 

"The leadership shown from Paito and the Mongrel Mob will help us open our economy, open our businesses, and try to get back to normal lives," says Jerome Mika, spokesperson for the Assembly of God (AOG) Church.

The gang boss was given a special exemption to cross the Auckland boundary.

"While he's there, could he please stop them from selling methamphetamine and stop taking methamphetamine from Auckland to Waikato?" National leader Judith Collins told The AM Show. 

Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam was also given an essential worker boundary exemption, because COVID-19 is surging through the Mob. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed there is quite a large number of gang members in the Delta outbreak. 

"Yes," he said on Wednesday.

And they haven't been following the rules.

"There's no question about it, it poses some bigger challenges," Hipkins said. "Some of the people involved have been more active than would be consistent in the alert levels in the areas that they have been."

Like patched gang members flouting COVID-19 rules in west Auckland for a funeral last week.

But COVID-19 has its own rules - it targets the unvaccinated - and gangs chief among them. 

"I have no time for the gangs. I don't have any sympathy for them," Hipkins said. "But the number one priority here has to be stopping COVID-19."

Jerome Mika, out helping vaccinate on Wednesday, said it's gangs who'll get through to gangs.

"Regardless of whether it be the AOG cluster we dealt with or the Mongrel Mob, we are all part of the team of 5 million."

It started with the Hamilton and Raglan cases -  now delta has dashed to Karapiro and Kawhia. 

Dave Walsh is chairman of the Kawhia Community Board. He says they were safe until people from out of town showed up.

"I think we're heading for a level 3 lockdown. And maybe this time, all the arrogant, ignorant out-of-towners and bach owners won't come," he told Newshub. 

Newshub has seen posts on a Kawhia community Facebook group with speculation about one of the Waikato cases, saying "many of you know what this person has been supplying to the communities of Raglan and Kawhia for many years".

Hipkins said he didn't know if a drug deal had been part of the transmission of the cluster. 

"I don't have any information," he said. "I could speculate like everyone else but I don't have any specific information on that."

When it comes to the gangs there needs to be a line between COVID-19 and crime. Yes, absolutely arrest anyone committing a crime or peddling meth, but every extra jab helps everyone. 

Perversely, all this extra attention on gang members' movements could be an extra incentive to get vaccinated too.