Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fires up at National's Christopher Luxon for opposing COVID-19 checkpoints

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is standing by her decision to enforce vaccine pass checks to and from Auckland or risk large COVID-19 outbreaks seen in Europe. 

Ardern made the remarks in Parliament on Tuesday under questioning from National leader Christopher Luxon, who fears police spot checks and checkpoints will cause traffic jams as Aucklanders depart for the summer.

The Auckland border drops on December 15 but travellers in and out of Auckland must carry evidence of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result taken 72 hours before departure. 

"Don't Aucklanders, after 15 weeks in lockdown, deserve at least some idea of how long they'll have to sit in traffic to get a summer holiday?" Luxon asked Ardern. 

The Prime Minister said police will determine how they manage compliance checks, the same way police manage drink driving checks. 

"There are those who will call to move faster, to abandon protections and to hastily lift restrictions. We know from international experience those who've done that have had to reimpose restrictions," Ardern said. 

"Our plan seeks to move forward carefully but also to make progress."

Ardern suggested Luxon was reckless, quoting back to him remarks he made earlier this month stating National's opposition to the COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, which has replaced the alert levels. 

Under the new system, freedoms are determined by vaccination status and gathering limits. National has called for vaccination passes to be ditched now that more than 85 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. 

"We don't support the traffic light system," Luxon said at the time. 

"Our view is very clear that when we get to a high level of double vaccination, we're good to go, and we have to open up the country and get going. We can do that safely and with good precautions."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is standing by her decision to enforce vaccine pass checks to and from Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is standing by her decision to enforce vaccine pass checks to and from Auckland. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ardern said restrictions were necessary to prevent large outbreaks, the likes of which have been seen in Europe as the continent battles a fresh wave of infections. The UK has raised its COVID-19 alert level over the emergence of the new Omicron variant. 

"The Opposition doesn't support public health protections, they don't support a boundary at Auckland, they don't support any international boundary; that is a recipe for what we have seen in Europe," Ardern said. 

"We have said that not every vehicle will be checked, because of course, it would cause a significant delay because tens of thousands of Aucklanders move over the summer period. 

"There will be compliance checks at the police's discretion and in the same way I cannot tell the public how they may have to wait if there is a drunk driving test on a Saturday night, it will be up to the police to determine how they undertake these checks. 

"I come back to the alternative. Some people are uncomfortable about the changes at the Auckland boundary. This is a balanced approach that ensures Aucklanders can rightly move because they deserve to, but ensures that we maintain extra precautions as we transition."

Travelling to Northland is expected to take longer. Police will work with iwi enforcement officers at two border checkpoints south of Whangārei on SH1 at Uretiti and SH12 Maungaturoto. 

These checkpoints will operate 24/7 short-term, according to Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill. Police will then move to a new model which will involve random checkpoints and spot checks.

National leader Christopher Luxon fears checkpoints will cause traffic jams.
National leader Christopher Luxon fears checkpoints will cause traffic jams. Photo credit: File

Police will have 74 staff working on a roster to operate the checkpoints on a 24/7 basis. The staff for these checkpoints will come from both Northland and other police districts.

Police will be stopping the vehicles, and former MP Hone Harawira's Tai Tokerau Border Control will assist with checking vaccine passes or proof of a negative COVID-19 test. 

"We are mindful that traffic through this region is normally busy at this time of year and motorists will know they need to plan their trip and be prepared," Supt Hill said. 

"The checkpoints will not be stopping every car and will not hold up traffic unnecessarily or impede essential travel but travellers should be prepared and expect to be stopped."

ACT leader David Seymour said it's 74 officers who won't be out in the community.

"Why should New Zealanders support a law that takes police away from fighting crime so they can hand out fines to holidaymakers?

"What happens if you come across a checkpoint that has no police officers there, but only iwi? Do you call the police, and when they arrive is the checkpoint suddenly legal?

"These checkpoints are a waste of police time and resources and police should never have been bullied into setting them up by iwi and Labour."