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How to decide if travelling for a summer holiday is the right thing to do

OPINION: After more than 100 days in lockdown, the desire to travel to a far-flung beach to rest and recuperate is powerful. Trust me, I feel it.

But regions like Te Tai Tokerau and Te Tai Rawhiti, exceptional for their beautiful beaches, are also exceptional for relatively low levels of vaccination. There are risks in travelling from one place where the coronavirus is prevalent to another place where it is not.

This is especially true for unvaccinated people, but even double-vaccinated holidaymakers can carry the coronavirus and pass it onto others, albeit with much lower risk.

This is why some community leaders and local health authorities are asking Aucklanders to resist the temptation to visit until local vaccination rates have risen. Hone Harawira has been a powerful advocate for a precautionary approach through Tai Tokerau Border Control.

David Hall, a senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, outlines the considerations that people should take before visiting regions worried about the spread of Covid among unvaccinated communities.

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David Hall, a senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, outlines the considerations that people should take before visiting regions worried about the spread of Covid among unvaccinated communities.

Regional borders have played a prominent role whenever the coronavirus has slipped past our national border. In March 2020 in the earliest phase of the pandemic, hapū and whānau stepped up to establish community checkpoints to halt community transmission.

READ MORE:
* Covid-19: Can holidays risk the health of others?
* Respect? Plenty. But I fear Aucklanders travelling the country
* Expect to be stopped: Hone Harawira is on a mission to protect Tai Tokerau from unvaccinated Aucklanders

In a new book, Stepping up, Luke Fitzmaurice and Maria Bargh show how these checkpoints were underpinned by tikanga Māori, especially concepts like whakapapa, aroha, and rangatiratanga.

These are robust Māori reasons for limiting travel – and indeed many Māori are choosing not to visit their whānau and whenua this summer for these very reasons.

But what about those of us who aren’t Māori? Do we also have reasons to respect these borders?

We tend to think about freedom of movement in terms of rights. Under ordinary circumstances, the right to freedom of movement within one’s home country is a fundamental right. Restrictions to free movement is a kind of detention, a violation of human autonomy.

But the pandemic plunged us into extraordinary circumstances, into a public health emergency, where rules and laws are temporarily suspended for the sake of public security and wellbeing.

The Government took extraordinary steps to restrict free movement inside New Zealand by requiring people to stay local under Alert Levels 3 and 4. It also imposed a border around Auckland on multiple occasions in response to localised outbreaks.

Police prevent protestors from crossing Auckland’s northern border during the city’s recent lockdown.

Chris McKeen/Stuff

Police prevent protestors from crossing Auckland’s northern border during the city’s recent lockdown.

This was highly unusual, but not without precedent. The cordon sanitaire is a centuries-old strategy in Europe for containing plagues and disease. By declaring one, the Government essentially removed the rights of Aucklanders to travel far in order to protect other New Zealanders’ right to health.

When the Government announced that fully vaccinated Aucklanders could travel domestically again from December 15, it essentially set a date for when the emergency ended and our right to free movement would be returned to us.

However, just because you have a right to do something, it doesn’t mean you ought to do it.

We have a right to speak freely without interference from the state, but this doesn’t mean that lying to your Mum, or swearing in front of children, is a heroic exercise of individual freedom.

Rather, before we have rights, we have duties to each other, duties of decency and care, which we breach by treating our state-sanctioned rights so cheaply.

Also, the state isn’t the only issuer of rights. First and foremost, we have rights in relation to one another as human beings.

Northland iwi and police operate a checkpoint after Covid cases were detected in the region, which has relatively low vaccination rates particularly among Māori.

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

Northland iwi and police operate a checkpoint after Covid cases were detected in the region, which has relatively low vaccination rates particularly among Māori.

We each have a right to life, most importantly, which other people should not violate by acting in ways that endanger our lives. Travelling as an unvaccinated person – as someone at high risk of being infected and infecting others – endangers others’ right to life by exposing them to the risk of avoidable illness and death.

But what if you are double-vaccinated and the risk is low? Indeed, what if a local community really wants holidaymakers to arrive, because local vaccination rates are high and tourism dollars are welcome?

The key consideration is consent. Formally speaking, to give consent is to give someone the right to do something that affects you.

If a community is explicitly welcoming holidaymakers, because the risks are sufficiently managed, then consent is given. The community has produced the right to visit.

But if a community is expressly worried about visitors, if the risks are perceived to outweigh the benefits, then it is far from obvious that consent is given, nor that the right to enter freely is granted.

In this sense, borders are not the sole preserve of the nation-state, but can be created and managed by any community with a common sense of purpose.

This might sound controversial, but it is the same as social licence. A government might formally grant a resource consent to a company for open-cast mining, but if the mining company loses the informal consent of local communities due to its negative impacts, this can become a serious problem.

Loss of social licence might result in consumer backlash, investor flight, litigation costs, difficulties in recruitment and retention of employees, and so on.

The question is: what will it be like, as a holidaymaker, to lack social licence where you are holidaying? It is unlikely to be a welcome feeling.

To avoid this discomfort, local communities and would-be holidaymakers will need to navigate consent.

The best remedy is communication: listening to community perspectives, enquiring about community sentiment in advance of arrival, and treating local knowledge with respect. Without that, this summer might see the rise of regional borders again.

David Hall is a senior lecturer in social science and public policy at the Auckland University of Technology.



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