A prominent gang leader is denying accusations he travelled across the Auckland-Northland boundary with a woman who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Northland was plunged into level 3 overnight after the positive case allegedly refused to cooperate fully with health authorities. She'd been in and out of Auckland, apparently using a travel document obtained under false pretences, and police are yet to find another person she was travelling with - reported on Friday to be a woman.
Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday morning, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the person was actually Harry Tam, a Hawke's Bay-based Mongrel Mob leader who had a permit to travel into Auckland to encourage vaccination amongst marginalised groups.
Newshub has received numerous emails from people with similar allegations. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Friday night he hadn't been briefed on what she was doing in Northland. Peters wouldn't comment on that either.
"This person came here with a gang member assigned essential worker status, falsified the reason she was coming," Peters said.
"[She] engaged with people at a hotel in Whangarei… and went to a marae up north which hid her from the public and dare I say it, the police. The police got a warrant to arrest her."
Peters said the Government found out the truth about the situation "days and days ago".
Peters wouldn't reveal the name of the marae, but said the gang member was Tam.
"How he got up north, that is very difficult to understand in terms of the permit system, but he brought in, under false premises, this woman with him. The rest, sadly, is catastrophic."
Tam told TVNZ Peters was wrong, and that he has not travelled to Northland during the current outbreak.
"I am absolutely certain of my sources, otherwise I wouldn't be saying what I'm saying," said Peters, urging the media to verify the claims with officials.
"Let them deny it, and they won't. But when the press was told yesterday at 6:30pm by Minister Hipkins that he didn't, that simply wasn't true. Frankly, we will never get through this crisis if we aren't transparent and honest."
Contact tracing has been difficult, with just two locations of interest being notified so far despite reports the woman travelled widely across the region between October 2 and October 6. Police told Newshub they were assisting the Ministry of Health in this regard, but wouldn't comment on Peters' allegations directly.
Northland is one of the least vaccinated areas of the country, and has a large Māori population at high risk of serious illness should they catch COVID-19. The low vaccination rate was behind the Government's decision to immediately put the region in level 3.
Newshub has contacted the Ministry of Health for a response to Peters' claims.
Peters said Northland now faced months of lockdown measures, and criticised health officials' cooperation with gangs to get hard-to-reach people vaccinated.
"This is a comedy by way of explanation - that explanation is not logical, it's not rational, it's not even common sense."
Epidemiologist Michael Baker earlier this week said it was "critical" health officials had access to gang members, since that's where the need is right now.
"You engage with the organisation, you get their leaders to help. I'm sure they are concerned. I've spoken to some gang leaders and I know they're concerned about the wellbeing of their community."
Peters, after a long period of relative silence after losing his seat in Parliament last year, told Newshub Nation he's tired of the "doubletalk, U-turns and spin" from the Government on its COVID-19 response.
"I was quietly getting on with my life, but I was observing events and saying, this cannot be true from what I know. It's simply not a fact, what I'm hearing at one o'clock."
Hipkins has in the past urged the public not to listen to COVID-19 rumours on social media, and trust what they hear at the 1pm press conferences.
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