This story first appeared in The Mercury Bay Informer and is republished here with permission.

Roadblocks could be in place at entry points to the Coromandel this week as the local Civil Defence Controller moves to prevent unlawful travel to the Peninsula during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Speaking to The Informer last Sunday, Garry Towler said he was compiling evidence to present to the National Response Centre in Wellington as part of a formal request for State Highways 25 and 25A to be managed. This would likely see access onto the Coromandel restricted to emergency vehicles and essential workers.

Towler said this was the only way to curb what he described as selfish and gormless people flouting the rules in order to travel to holiday homes on the Peninsula. “What exactly such access restrictions will look like and the extent of it, I’m not sure, those decisions will be made by others, but I will be making it clear that that is what we require,” he said.

Thames-Coromandel District Council has been inundated with complaints about non-residents arriving at baches, frequently under the cover of darkness. Even a public appeal from Mayor Sandra Goudie appears to be falling on deaf ears. “The message is clear – stay home and save lives,” she cautioned. “Home is not your second holiday home, it’s your permanent place of residence. The capacity of our medical and other essential services is not the same as the larger centres. If we get a cluster of sick people outside of our usual permanent population, our medical facilities will struggle.”

Coromandel civil defence controller Garry Towler. Photo: Supplied

Despite the warnings, communities including Cooks Beach and Matarangi have continued to report large numbers of non-residents arriving throughout the course of last week. As well as potentially transferring the Covid-19 virus from one region to another, those breaking the lockdown bans are diverting essential and emergency workers away from helping the most vulnerable.

“I have a team here who are working hard on getting food and water out to assist the needy,” Towler said. “Then instead of focusing on that, I have to put together what is basically a firefighting team to deal with this issue of people who are not obeying the rules and staying at home. Every day I have a flood of emails from Coromandel residents who have woken up and suddenly people have moved in next door. These are people who have everything they need at their homes in Hamilton or Auckland, or wherever they are from, and they have just decided to come and have a holiday on the Peninsula.

“You look at our small communities like Hot Water Beach where they have been doing a great job, sticking to the rules and looking after one another. Then suddenly all these people arrive in the middle of the lockdown, breaking the local community’s isolation and wandering around the shop so others no longer feel it is safe to go in there. It’s been pretty widespread from Pauanui right up to the north of the Mercury Bay area, it’s just ridiculous.”

Around 30 people are currently working as part of the Thames-Valley Emergency Response Area team, which is run jointly by Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki and Matamata-Piako District Councils. These include around 10 working at the Emergency Operations Centre in Thames, between eight and 10 distributing food and another 10 working remotely. The team has the ability to call on further staff if required.

Towler said his and his team’s primary focus is on people’s welfare and ensuring residents across the three districts were able to self-isolate safely in their homes for the duration of the lockdown. Over the course of last week, demand for help doubled every day with a minimum of 100 food parcels being distributed daily. “Each pack contains food and essentials to sustain the recipient household for four days, Towler said. “Initially we were helping mostly our beneficiaries and those on very limited incomes. That trend has changed and we are now hearing from more wage earners as well as small business-owners who are running out of whatever income they had, so the situation is escalating.”

Going forward, Towler said he was concerned about the level of tension that the reckless behaviour of some was causing within communities and even between neighbours. “This bad feeling won’t just go away quickly,” he said. “And I understand it, people are afraid, most are doing everything they can to stop this thing spreading and others are just being selfish and irresponsible.”

Acknowledging that denying people access to the Coromandel Peninsula was a serious move, Towler said the scale of the problem left him with little option. “If you are asking for the police or the Defence Force to come in to man our roads, you need to be able to make a very good case for that to happen, but I believe we have the evidence to prove that it is necessary,” he said.

This story first appeared in The Mercury Bay Informer and is republished here with permission.

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