National | Novel Coronavirus / COVID-19

Is Kaeo in level 2 or 3? Confusion over boundaries and iwi left out of conversation

Confusing borders, vaccine access issues, low vaccination rates - Day 1 in the Te Hiku lockdown is already showing gaps in the government's Covid-19 response.

There are no new cases in the region today after a level 3 Alert level shift last night following two positive cases that remain unlinked to the current Northland cluster.

However, the boundary lines have left communities confused. On the Covid-19 website Kaeo is in Alert level 3. and the police checkpoint is set up just out of town blocking access to the only grocery store for 20 minutes' drive.

Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa (TROW) sits just inside the area marked on the Covid-19 website and chief executive Bree Davis says she has had to field calls from concerned whānau who are left without access to basic needs like food, gas, and medical supplies in the township.

She says whānau are trying to cross the one-way bridge just out of town where police are set up and are being turned away,  "phonecalls saying if we're all in level three why cant we cross the bridge? What's the problem? It's the same kōrero, you're in level 2, well not according to your website," Davis says.

Te Ao Mārama asked Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins why the checkpoint and the website didn't match.

He said: "Obviously, I'm not on the ground there right now" and that police checkpoints are usually used in the most practical area to stop vehicles

But Davis is concerned about how whānau will access essential services: "People who already have limited gas in the tank and have mapped out their week based on coming into Kaeo, when they get turned around and have to go the other way it's going to add pressure, especially if they don't have gas in the tank."

The minister said people shouldn't be moving unnecessarily and, when asked about access to things like gas, he responded, "it depends what you need the gas for."

Left out 

TROW was also left out of the conversation when the discussion of the alert level change happened before yesterday's announcement even though the boundary line runs through their customary bounds. The minister said he would need to come back with a response as to why it was left out.

Iwi across Te Taitokerau called for a level 3 lockdown over a week ago. The government decided against that at the time.

Te Hiku Iwi Development Trust deputy chair Hugh Karena says there was a huge concern that the virus may spread across the region. He says iwi in the Far North are being proactive and assisting whānau who are positive. He says Hone Harawira is making check-in calls to all those infected, that the iwi is ensuring they have kai, water, medicine, and all things needed to make sure they are comfortable and supported during their time in self-isolation.

Vaccination rates 

Māori vaccination rates still remain low in the region. Only 48% of the eligible population have had their second dose.

The minister was asked today whether there were any lessons learned from the Māori vaccine rollout and whether that would change the way prioritisation will work for possible booster shots but he maintained that prioritisation of the elderly was the best choice and that decision had helped with hospitalisation numbers.

However, Māori make up 40 to 50% of daily cases and the numbers in the outbreak continue to grow.