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South Wairarapa’s vax pass mandate under scrutiny

Alex Beijen said he had received an indication from the Government that there would be a change in policy in three to six weeks. PHOTO/FILE

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen has told fellow councillors he is concerned about the effects the vaccine mandate is having on the community.

The discussion arose at last week’s full council meeting after a public submission from resident Mary Byrne.

Byrne asked for vaccine passes to be scrapped to enable all residents to use council facilities.

Vaccine passes are required to access all South Wairarapa public pools, libraries, and town halls.

Byrne was one of four residents to raise concerns about the vaccine passes using the public forum at the Featherston Community Board meeting on Tuesday night and the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] meeting on Wednesday.

As a result of the submissions, a meeting was being arranged with several residents to discuss their concerns.

It was understood this meeting would take place within the next two weeks.

At Wednesday’s full council meeting, councillor Rebecca Fox said she agreed with removing the vaccine pass requirement from council venues but noted the vaccine pass policy was a decision made by the chief executive under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Councillor Pip Maynard said that now Wairarapa was above the target of 90 per cent vaccination rates, “I’m wondering where we stand [on vaccine passes]”.

Featherston Community Board member Claire Bleakley has previously expressed her disagreement with vaccine passes being enforced at council venues.

In January, she accompanied and filmed a group of three residents seeking access to the Featherston library without a vaccine pass.

At the time, the council reported that staff were “abused by a group of protesters opposed to vaccine passes”, and the council closed the library for the day.

Bleakley said the council’s response and comments by Beijen, who called for her resignation, were “extreme and sensational”.

Most recently, Bleakley was arrested at the anti-mandate protest at Parliament.

South Wairarapa resident Hans Van Velzen, who made a plea to remove vaccine passes at the Featherston Community Board meeting on Tuesday night, said he was seeing a “split society in Featherston and South Wairarapa because of the mandatory vaccination passports in some amenities”.

“It has created an ‘us against them’ situation,” he said.

“Following up on the Featherston library incident, in the media, and especially on social media, the tone was very aggressive and quite concerning.”

“It is adding to fear.”

Featherston Community Board chairman Mark Shepherd said he was happy to meet  residents who were concerned to find a solution for everybody.

SWDC policy and governance general manager Amanda Bradley said a meeting would be arranged with the residents to discuss their concerns.

At the full council meeting, Beijen said he had received an indication from the Government that there would be a “change in policy in three to six weeks, and we look forward to that eagerly”.

“It may surprise you, but personally, I am very concerned at the effects of vaccine mandates through the community. However, we are sticking to the playlist at the moment,” he said.

SWDC partnerships and operations manager Stefan Corbett said the vaccine pass policy that was in place was “the subject of regular review and scrutiny by council officers”.

“Each week, we look carefully at where we stand in relation to the policy and how we are protecting our staff and community.

“Central government’s direction is a very critical part of decisions we need to make locally.

“We are still in a near-vertical growth phase of omicron, and we will need to presumably ride out that wave before we make changes.

“But our ability to make changes is fairly rapid.”

Under the Government’s covid-19 protection framework, public facilities such as libraries, art galleries, and museums could choose whether to ask for a vaccine certificate at any traffic light level. — NZLDR

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