Covid Boundary Lessons to be Learnt – Placement and Passage
Despite the best efforts of the Police and the Army, the Auckland borders, particularly the southern borders, have been very tough going for everyone. As with everything, there are lessons to be learnt, and these border lessons must be learnt before another Covid border is put in place. The two key learnings are where you place the border, and how you enable passage through the border.
The first step for placing a border is to identify the area and the people who know that area well. Those people are the Police and the locals that live in that area. Local knowledge is vital when it comes to border placement. Following historic regional council or health board boundaries will not achieve optimum results.
There are smart places for checkpoints, and there are not very smart places. The southern boundary for the Auckland border was the regional council boundary. This a boundary that weaves its way along the countryside and cuts the Pukekohe vegetable growing hub in two. Some growers had their workshops on one side of the border and their fields on the other side. The packing operations are in Auckland, and a lot of the produce is grown in the Waikato.
We estimated that there were around 2,000 border movements a day getting fresh vegetables to Auckland. Experts and technicians movements across the border were impeded as they were incorrectly not considered crucial to growing. Then there is the movement of workers – workers coming North to work in Auckland and workers going South to work in the Waikato. Placement of the border only a little further to the South would have reduced the number workers trying to cross the border each day, reduced the movement of vegetables across the border, and allowed experts and technicians to do their vital jobs. This shift would have reduced daily border crossings by thousands of trips and greatly eased congestion. So, placement needs to be worked on today for all future borders using local knowledge to ensure optimum placement. These borders can then be Gazetted, ready for use when the Covid need arises.
The second step is to enable swift border passage. An exemption regime was set up after the borders were established that involved having to check documents and letters at the checkpoints. In horticulture’s case, there were three documents that needed to be checked, which were occasionally not recognised as valid. Many essential businesses under the Level 3 lockdown only got their exemption many days after the border control had been established, and some, I am told, have still not got their exemptions. This delay meant that businesses that were deemed essential and permitted to operate could not operate, as they couldn’t get their staff to work, or technicians across the border.
Horticulture was fortunate. With good support from the Ministry for Primary Industries, the industry was able to get an exemption in the first few days of the new lockdown. If an exemption had not been granted, there would have been very few fresh, locally grown vegetables for Auckland to eat.
The strictures placed on essential businesses by the border control were not sensible. If a business is deemed to be essential, it should have the ability to move across the border as required. So, there are two improvements here. Firstly, all essential businesses need to be granted an exemption for all possible borders in the country today. It is not practical to try and grant exemptions once an Alert Level 3 or 4 border is in place.
Next, essential businesses should be issued with a window pass for their vehicles. Instead of being stopped at the border, they can be quickly waved through. If there is any concern at a checkpoint, by using the pass number the business concerned can be called to check that the movement is part of their essential business. Yes, this system would involve trust as many system do. But to put it in context; we already trust the essential businesses to feed us, so why would we not trust them to operate the border effectively? Breaches could be dealt with by the removal of the vehicle passes. There are many other ideas that could be used to enable the safe containment of Covid-19 and also timely passage across borders with the least disruption to essential services.
I know that all sectors and industries have a lot of good ideas to put forward for future border operations. We need to be asked to provide these to the Government. The key point is to learn from the Auckland border issues and before another border is created, prepare for it by addressing the twin issues of placement and passage.
Mike Chapman, Chief Executive