Winston Peters apologises for claiming Harry Tam helped COVID-infected women enter Northland from Auckland

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has issued a correction and apologised for claiming a prominent gang leader  improperly crossed the Auckland-Northland Alert Level 3 boundary with women who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Northland was plunged into a snap alert level 3 lockdown earlier this month after two people, a woman who later tested positive for COVID-19 and her travelling companion, breached the Auckland boundary and refused to cooperate with officials.

Appearing on Newshub Nation the morning after the lockdown was announced, Peters claimed the travelling companion was actually Hawke's Bay-based Mongrel Mob leader Harry Tam - who was granted a travel exemption to enter Auckland and help encourage vaccination.

Tam denied the claims, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was no evidence of his involvement - nor that the cases were linked to gangs in any way. 

The travelling companion, who was on the run for several days, was revealed to be a woman. She was arrested in west Auckland last week and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 as well.

Peters has now apologised to Tam, adding he made the comments based on information "I obtained from a reliable and credible source".

He said his concern was around the failure of the alert level boundaries.

"On 9 October 2021, I gave an interview to Newshub on the issue of people who had crossed the Auckland Alert Level 3 border improperly using essential worker credentials.  These people were understood to be associated with a member of an organised criminal gang, the Mongrel Mob," Peters said in a statement.

"During the interview, based on information that I had obtained from a reliable and credible source, I expressed the view that Mr Harry Tam, a known affiliate of the Mongrel Mob, was one of these people.

"Mr Tam has said that he was not the Mongrel Mob member that entered Northland. On the basis of what he has said, one aspect of the information that I received, and which informed my view on the matter in the interview, must be wrong."

Peters said he was releasing a correction to draw attention back to how people were wrongly able to cross from Auckland’s alert level border to Northland under false essential worker status and cause a lockdown.

"I, therefore, apologise to Mr Tam for naming him as the Mongrel Mob affiliate who entered Northland with others causing a two-week level 3 lockdown."

Peters, in his statement, accused the Government of failing to inform the public of the Northland cases quickly enough.

Ardern on Monday revealed Northland will come out of lockdown and drop back to alert level 2 after no further cases were detected following the pair's visit.

"With more than 16,000 tests undertaken since the first positive case and testing across 19 wastewater sites all returning negative results, all the evidence to date suggests that the individuals who tested positive in Northland have not spread it further," she told reporters.