National takes a swing at lockdown's effect on primary sector

Although some primary industries have now been granted exemptions, many still have not.
Although some primary industries have now been granted exemptions, many still have not. Photo credit: Getty

The National Party has criticised the Government for the problems Auckland's COVID-19 lockdown is causing the primary sector, saying it should have acted more quickly to make travel exemptions for essential agricultural workers.

"Auckland is almost 10 days into their regional lockdown and there has still been no specific exemptions granted by the Ministry of Health to allow primary sector workers to carry out essential services across the Auckland regional border," National's MP for Hunua Andrew Bayly said on Friday.

"These travel exemptions should have been ready to go at the first sign of regional restrictions. Instead, it has taken a week for the minister to secure exemptions for the dairy, horticulture, and poultry sectors."

Auckland is currently at alert level 3 and the rest of the country at level 2. Many in the agriculture sector have been increasingly frustrated however, with their inability to freely cross the border between Auckland and Waikato, particularly as many farms and growing areas straddle both regions.

Although some primary industries have now been granted exemptions, many still have not.

One of those industries is apiculture. On Thursday, Apiculture NZ's chief executive Karin Kos told Newshub her organisation had received multiple calls from beekeepers unable to travel freely in and out of Auckland and who were "increasingly concerned about accessing beehives to manage bee health". One honey company told Newshub millions of bees had starved to death after beekeepers were unable to cross the border into Auckland to access their hives.

Bayley said the uncertainty around the issue was causing headaches for businesses.

"These businesses can’t afford to wait weeks for Labour to get their act together. The longer they have to wait, the more production they lose."

"We have written to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health requesting that they work to ensure that the primary sector receives these travel for work exemptions to alleviate the unfair restrictions placed on these essential workers."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Newshub while every exemption request was considered carefully the "bar is very high to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 out of Auckland".

"We appreciate that there has been a delay in some businesses waiting for an exemption request to be processed," the spokesperson said.

"Over the past 24 hours we have clarified the rules around which workers can cross the regional boundary into and out of Auckland."

"The Ministry of Health has processed hundreds of requests from individuals and businesses, and we are continuing to grow the team and get support from other agencies so we can clear the backlog.

"We recommend that industry organisations work with their relevant ministry to seek class exemptions for groups of workers where appropriate."

The Minister of Agriculture has also been contacted for comment.