At a Covid crossroad

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    Kelly Klink contacted the Gulf News on Tuesday to talk roadblocks.

    This is a woman who has led and won a battle all the way to the High Court to prevent dredged waste from being dumped on the seafloor just off her beloved Aotea Great Barrier. And when she’s moved to a cause, then there’s little she’ll let stand in her way.

    Since the outset of the coronavirus crisis, Kelly has been concerned about the threat of bringing the virus into her remote island community. She has fought off boaties and pushed for absolute isolation under the extreme level-four lockdown – but now that restrictions are easing and folk are talking about regional travel throughout New Zealand, her concerns have ramped up.

    On Tuesday, a Sealink ferry took passengers to Aotea Great Barrier and Kelly – of Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea – says she now intends to block people going onto the island.

    “My aunties have asked me to do it. Now our family are very concerned. We left it up to the local board to heal it and they aren’t doing enough. Too many people are coming over, we need Māori to intervene.”

    She’s got a valid point. Lives certainly are at risk. And when even the prime minister still considers the smouldering embers of this awful disease to be cause enough to keep the national economy stalled, it makes sense to prioritise the health of friends and whanau.

    “Some of the Ngawaka whanau here have been listed with heart disease, they die young. They’ve been tested internationally and it’s in their family. Also I myself, I have a heart condition.”

    Hence the roadblocks.

    “We are going to stop them there coming off the ferry with a roadblock so that they can’t come onto the island. We’re going to tell Sealink we will be blocking people coming onto the island.

    “We’ve had whanau that have come out today that shouldn’t be here, that haven’t been out here, they should go back.

    “Our family are really agrieved with it. I’ve allowed the local board to deal with it and it’s time now for Māori to step in.”

    Roadblocks have been a simmering issue that local communities and police throughout New Zealand have failed to resolve since they first started to appear around Northland, Bay of Plenty, Wellington and the East Coast in mid-March. And as Government restrictions relax, they highlight the tension between handling a weakening health crisis and a burgeoning economic crisis.

    On Waiheke this week, the marae-based Piritahi Hau Ora completed the distribution of 171 care packages to some of the island’s neediest families and general manager Judy Davis told me that she could only see the problem growing over the coming months as more people lose work, struggle to pay rents and see household budgets dwindle to near nothing.

    We are at a crossroad. And, for people such as Kelly Klink and those families in desperate need of handouts of food and essential items, it’s a terrible choice: stay closed off and struggle but stay safe, or open up to the potential of earning and the potential of reigniting this damnable virus.

    There is no simple solution. Some businesses can’t rely solely on local custom to survive and kindness – though vital in so many ways – can’t put regular food on the table. But the fear of a sickness for which a cure or vaccination is still a long way off creates a powerful drive to retreat.

    In this week’s Gulf News we have highlighted some of the businesses doing their best to open up and trade. And while there’s still a way to go before off-island visitors can boost our local economy, there is still great benefit to us all for what they are doing.

    The TotallyLocally campaign that Waiheke was part of in recent years – and which was promoted extensively by Gulf News – had a simple-but-surprising element called “the magic tenner” which showed that $10 spent locally with a company that used local suppliers and employed local staff could “magically” transform to $50 within the local economy. 

    Now there’s clearly less money around at the moment in general, and far fewer people to spend what there is – but if we are to find a balance between our physical health, our mental health and our economic wealth then maybe being able to pump some money back into our local businesses would be a good start. 

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    And just a final note to say Happy Mother’s Day to all our Waiheke mums. Having already had to find alternative ways to mark Anzac Day and Easter this year, it’s only right we all get creative this weekend to mark what’s no lesser day on our calendar. The strength to get through this crisis may well be most apparent on a national level – but it starts at home and with family. This year more than any, Mother’s Day must celebrate the women at the heart of our community. • James Belfield

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