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Northland’s Covid scare has been caused by a woman connected to the Mongrel Mob and who travelled to Whangārei under false pretences, former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters claims.
The Mob brought the woman to Northland via Auckland under false pretences, Peters claimed on Newshub Nation this morning.
Peters alleged the woman stayed in a hotel in central Whangārei, but when she had a Covid test and it came back positive she fled to a marae further north.
When police went to arrest her at the marae, she had already left, Peters said.
The Mongrel Mob leader named by Peters says the allegations are “totally unfounded”.
Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame says the leader told him over the phone he was in Auckland and he had not been to Northland during this outbreak. “He laughed and said he believed the allegations had been driven by a moral panic over gangs.”
The claims, along with other allegations about the woman, have been widely circulated on social media, text and email but have not been confirmed by officials or the Government.
The Ministry of Health has not commented on the claims and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a hastily arranged press conference last night that he did not have information to suggest the woman was connected to a gang.
A reporter at the press conference said they had been told the woman is a sex worker but Hipkins said he could not confirm that – he had not been briefed that was the case.
Peters told Newshub Nation he was absolutely certain of his sources and claimed health authorities and the PM knew days ago who the person travelled with.
The Herald has been attempting to confirm speculation about the case, before Peters’ appearance on television.
Police have referred all inquiries to the Ministry of Health this morning. “For privacy reasons, wherever possible, the Ministry of Health doesn’t comment on individuals,” a Ministry of Health spokesman said.
Health authorities have, however, already said the woman who tested positive to Covid is not cooperating with contact tracers. She is back in Auckland and in MIQ but her travelling female companion cannot yet be located.
Peters said health teams knew the information he had days ago, and he thought it was wrong that they were not sharing it with the public. People had a right to know, he said.
Peters said the situation in the north was predictable given the nature of the essential travel exemptions given out.
Far North District Mayor John Carter said the community was feeling hugely disappointed, frustrated and angry this morning.
Northlanders had been working hard to keep the virus at bay and then an irresponsible person brought it into the community, he said.
“It’s frustrating as hell,” he said. “We’ve worked hard and now some bloody idiot has come and buggered it up for all of us.”
Peters said he knew the hotel where the woman stayed as well as the marae where she went into hiding but would not reveal the names on television.
That was for the Prime Minister, health teams and police to do, he said.
Campsite link to woman
A Department of Conservation campsite in Northland could be the latest location of interest given a potential link to the Covid-positive woman who recently visited the region.
The Uretiti Beach DoC campsite is yet to be announced as a location of interest, however, onsite manager Steve Farrow told the NZ Herald that Northland public health staff had informed him yesterday the site was linked to the infected person.
Northland DHB and the Ministry of Health have been approached for comment.
The woman is believed to have travelled around the region, including to Whangārei, Kamo, Paihia and Kawakawa, before returning to Auckland.
However, locations of interest were limited to two service stations as the woman had been “uncooperative” with authorities in determining her movements in the region, according to Hipkins.
The two service stations are BP Connect Wylies in Woodhill (Saturday, October 2 – 11.20pm-12.20am) and Z Kensington (Monday, October 4 – 3.45pm-4.45pm).
Farrow said it was believed another woman – who was reportedly travelling with the Covid-positive case – had come through the campsite between October 3-5.
The roughly 40 people at the campsite are now in lockdown, unable to leave. Only about 15 had been at the site between the relevant dates.
Farrow said people who had arrived after October 5 were given a chance to leave before the site was closed and only one family did.
While he described some people as “shocked” by the news, Farrow said most were comfortable and could sustain themselves for a few days.
“In the next 24 hours, we’ll have a better understanding of where we’re at.”
Social distancing was not an issue at the 15ha site, masks were mandatory and only one person was allowed in the site office at a time.
Farrow was now assisting the DHB with contact tracing investigations by combing through security footage.
Fortunately, Farrow said almost all campers had received at least one vaccination, while the majority had been fully vaccinated.
Mayor 'quite grumpy'
Earlier Whāngārei mayor Sheryl Mai said another change in alert level was “unacceptable” and that it would hurt businesses and holidaymakers that had flown from other parts of New Zealand during the school holidays.
And Mai told RNZ she was “actually quite grumpy”.
“We’ve got a person who really has done everything that they should not do. And they’ve impacted all of Northland as a result.
“I was giving the person the benefit of the doubt earlier today. Now I’m just ropeable.”
Meanwhile, plans to erect a checkpoint north of Whangārei are being discussed following the revelation the women travelled throughout the region recently.
Late yesterday, Tai Tokerau Border Control spokesman Hone Harawira confirmed the group had been working with Northland police to stand up a checkpoint at Waiomio – about 30 minutes north of Whangārei before Kawakawa, known as the entrance to the Far North.
Group convener Nyze Manuel said motorists will be asked to turn around, should the checkpoint be instated.
“Now that the decision has been made that Northland will go back to [alert] level 3, we will be asking people not to travel north from Whangārei until we get the all clear from authorities, and we’re also talking to police about running mobile patrols to counter people trying to slip the border through the back roads.”
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