Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Waiheke Islanders divided over Auckland border issue

The residents of Waiheke Island are in two minds about keeping their slice of paradise sealed off from Auckland day-trippers.

The Ministry of Health issued an alert level 3 update yesterday stopping Aucklanders from visiting Waiheke and Aotea Great Barrier Islands, but allowing residents to visit the city.

One resident, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said anger is boiling over at the local board pushing for a border without consulting anyone.

“The island is in turmoil. Residents who do not have the means or money are cut off from their family in the city. Businesses who’d been hoping for a small boost with travel being permitted throughout Auckland have been denied this opportunity.Bach owners can’t even travel over for the day to check on their property,” the resident said.

Waiheke Local Board chairwoman Cath Handley disputed claims of widespread anger on the island, saying the decision to ask the Government for a border was overwhelmingly supported by the island’s residents.

She said formal consultation would have taken too long, saying “one thing we don’t have with Covid transmission is time”.

The board deliberated over the weekend and voted unanimously voted to ask the Government to formally put a border in place, she said.

Handley said the board was aware of other island communities overseas, such as the Isle of Wight, opening their borders and being decimated by Covid.

“It has the potential to affect a good number of people. We are a small population of 9500 and it would be tragic to lose anyone from Covid,” she said.

The island’s tourism body, Waiheke Island Tourism Inc (WITI), is meeting the local board tomorrow to discuss the ramifications of the level 3 rules and future level 2 restrictions.

WITI chairwoman Christina Hyde said businesses want more information and to understand the implications of the border restrictions.

“There is no business on the island at the moment,” said Hyde, saying Waiheke more than anywhere else in Auckland depends on tourism.

She said businesses are in “absolute pain” and knew of one accommodation provider and one restaurant that had gone into liquidation during lockdown.

Waiheke’s permanent population swells to about 35,000 people over summer, and more than 35 per cent of the homes are holiday homes.

A doctor who works in Auckland and spends two to three days a week at a property on the island at Onetangi said it was unfair that Waiheke residents could come to Auckland and mix but she could not go to her home on the island.

The doctor, who is fully vaccinated, said dozens of builders were travelling to and from the island every day to work with no-one knowing their vaccination status.

“Is that not a risk,” she said.

The border issue has received mixed feedback on the Waiheke Community Facebook page.

One woman thanked the board for its “amazing work”, saying she hoped not too many Waihekeans would travel to Auckland either.

“Keep the virus out and our vulnerable people safe. Yes, it needs to be enforced,” the woman said.

Another woman said: “So people travelling to Auckland from Waiheke are somehow immune from catching the virus and bringing it back? But people travelling to Waiheke are riddled with it? Please.”

Stopping day trippers was supported by one resident, but who wanted extended whānau to be able to travel to Waiheke.

“That’s causing a lot of stress to many families. It’s no good saying ‘go see them in Auckland’, the boat fares are seriously out of range for many.”

Another resident said: “Speaking to local business owners, many are on their knees and suffering hugely. If we are highly vaxxed we should be able to open up the island sooner.”

The island’s limited facilities were pointed out on the community page: “0 hospitals. 1 ambulance, 1 helicopter, 1 boat, understaffed medical clinics, 1 supermarket.”

The Herald is seeking comment from the Covid-19 group within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet which manages the alert level guidelines on the reasons for putting the Waiheke border in place.

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