Bridging the COVID divide

Published on 16 September 2021

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On Monday, Air New Zealand began direct flights between Bay of Islands Airport and Wellington. This return service is providing Northland with an air bridge to the rest of the country, leapfrogging Auckland while that city remains under alert level lockdown. I want to thank my fellow Northland mayors and other regional leaders for presenting such a strong case for these flights. I also want to acknowledge Air New Zealand for quickly arranging the temporary service. It will help to support our communities and the local economy. It means students can return to their studies, business people and officials can represent Northland where and when they are needed, and tourists can visit our region.

Judging by the early rush on bookings, Kiwis on both sides of the Auckland lockdown divide have been keen to reopen these links and get life back to normal. Of course, ‘normal’ will not happen until alert level restrictions in Auckland are finally removed. While the flights to Wellington are very welcome, what we really need is for road links to be restored.

Through regular meetings I have with Far North business leaders, I know that this latest lockdown is pushing many to the limit. We are seeing shortages of basic materials, especially in the building sector, with the production and distribution of key goods seriously disrupted by the Auckland lockdown. But it’s not only goods; our tourism and hospitality sectors are also struggling. As we head into the summer season, these businesses not only need the return of paying customers, they also more need staff. Unfortunately, air travel is not a practical option for many visitors nor for those looking for work.

Northland mayors and I have worked hard to get clarity from the Government on rules for road travel from or through Auckland. The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been a game-changer, requiring much stricter quarantine practices to reduce the spread of the virus. That means road travel across alert levels must be kept to a minimum. Through discussions with officials, we have ensured that these rules are as fair and consistent as possible. People can drive to and from Northland, through Auckland, for business and for personal reasons, like weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, we will not see holiday traffic streaming north of Auckland again until that city’s alert level is reduced. These ongoing restrictions will be tough for our communities, for our economy and particularly for our tourism and hospitality sectors. While travel restrictions remain, I urge you to do all you can to support these businesses.

In the meantime, we need to remember that it would take just one case of Delta getting into Northland for the whole region to be locked down. None of us want that. What we want is for our elderly and most vulnerable residents to be protected. We want travel rules at our border to be followed. And most importantly, we need to get vaccinated. That is how we beat this virus and enjoy a summer free from restrictions.