The community safety zones initiated by Te Whānau a Apanui will be lifted on Wednesday with a karakia at 7am at Pōtikirua and at midday at Hāwai.

The community safety zones were implemented on the east coast of the North Island on 25 March to protect the vulnerable rural community from the spread of COVID-19.

Ōpōtiki Mayor, Lyn Riesterer, said that the collaborative approach had demonstrated its success and relationships across agencies and leadership were stronger.

“The agencies working closely together over the last couple of months has really cemented for me the importance of collaboration and whanaunatanga – that connection when you really understand what we are all working towards.

“All the voices around the table have had the same end goal in mind – the wellbeing of a remote and vulnerable community. A community that has suffered disproportionally through previous epidemics and illness. And the feedback I have had from locals and visitors about the community protection zones has been largely really positive and that is something that I am proud of,” Mayor Riesterer said.

Iwi leader, Rikirangi Gage, said that the actions taken to restrict movement through the rohe had provided additional security during the early phases of uncertainty about the pandemic. In light of the national success at restricting COVID-19, Te Whānau a Apanui would be matching the national guidelines from Wednesday.

“We have been watching the national picture unfold very closely over the past weeks and we are now confident that we can lower our community-led Alert Levels to match central government levels from Wednesday and our traffic stops at Pōtaka and Hāwai will close.

“I can’t thank the volunteers enough – they have manned those check-points night and day for many weeks and spoken to dozens of people passing through our rohe. Most traffic passed through after a short chat as they knew where they could stop, what facilities would be open and the risks they brought with them.

“There have been very few turned away as generally our kaupapa has been widely respected and I’d like to thank the public for their support through this process,” Rikirangi Gage said.

Rikirangi Gage said that the rāhui was part of a bigger kaupapa that would continue and work was still underway to ensure the community had flu shots, sufficient food and medical assistance and clear guidelines of what the national levels meant for local tikanga including tangihanga and family gatherings at marae.

Eastern Bay of Plenty Police provided support to Te Whānau a Apanui in the establishment of the community safety zone along State Highway 35 and advised on the community-led initiative.

“These community safety zones provided additional protection to a remote and vulnerable community during a very uncertain international pandemic. They have been well-led with support of Police locally and nationally and the feedback has been extremely positive. They have clearly achieved what they set out to do.

“Community policing means working in partnership and building solutions to problems in conjunction with the communities we serve. I don’t want Te Whānau a Apanui to feel abandoned as we move down the national alert levels and I am also confident that the relationships we have built through the COVID-19 response will continue into the future,” said Acting Area Commander Stuart Nightingale.