National | Auckland

Government speeds ahead to traffic lights; Māori may be left behind

The government is predicting 90 per cent of the population will be fully vaccinated by mid-December but, with Māori case numbers predicted to be 6600 by Christmas, the Māori Party says Māori need to be prioritised.

December 15 is freedom day for Aucklanders, the government following through today on its promise of Christmas freedom for the super city after the long Covid-19 lockdown, despite the predicted case numbers.

The traffic lights system will turn on, allowing Aucklanders to move around for Christmas - but not everyone will get the green light. "With safety and minimising the spread of the virus in mind, I can also confirm that cabinet will look to move those areas with lower vaccination levels into the traffic light system at Red," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Summer hotspots like Tai Rāwhiti and Northland have the lowest of the country's vaccination rates. "On the northern boundary, and the gateway to Northland, the police will work with iwi to ensure people can move but also that the people of Northland have confidence in the checks that are in place."

By Māori

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi says it needs to be the other way around, saying iwi Māori should lead and the police should assist the efforts by hapū, iwi and communities

While the 91% first dose vaccination rate gives the government confidence to move to the traffic light system, Māori numbers are lower at 78% first dose.

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says it comes down to an inequitable response.  “From the outset, the government has failed to provide equitable opportunities for Māori to access information, resources, and vaccinations. In fact, they have actively blocked our efforts to protect our communities. I have witnessed the gaps with my very own eyes,” she says.

Te Pāti Māori's policy announcement today called for a Treaty-centric approach, asking Māori to unite and calling for the speed-up of the establishment of the Māori Health Authority.

Advice ignored

“Every piece of advice given by tangata whenua over the course of this pandemic has been ignored by this government," Ngarewa-Packer says. "And they still don’t have a plan. Their blatant willingness to ignore Māori health expert advice is committing us to bureaucratic genocide.”

Health Minister Andrew Little said he understands the concerns over the low Māori vaccination rates and says there's a lot of work to do. The minister also acknowledged that distrust exists between Māori and the government.

Te Pāti Māori is not the only ones with concerns. The Green Party says it wants borders up until the vaccination rates are equitably high, “Elimination has protected thousands of lives in Aotearoa and maintaining elimination is still possible outside of Auckland for now," co-leader Marama Davidson says.

"Aucklanders have been doing it really tough but we have to hold the line to keep everyone safe while vaccination rates increase, particularly when so many of our vulnerable communities are still at risk.”

Covid-19 Response spokesperson Dr Elizabeth Kerekere says she has concerns about marginalised communities, “There is a risk of significant harm to people in under-resourced DHBs, with the combination of lower vaccination rates – especially among Māori – and more marginalised communities."

Health researcher Dr Rawiri Taonui says at the current seven-day rate of 107.4 new Māori cases a day, there will be 6,600 Māori cases by Christmas but Māori are still not featured in government health measure announcements.

'Announcement of an announcement'

The government maintains the modelling shows the effects of decisions made on the entire population, including Māori communities.

Auckland has been in restricted levels for three months and, while there may be a sigh of relief after today's announcement, Aucklanders will still need to wait till November 29 to get surety, Ardern saying “Cabinet will confirm on November 29 its decision to move Auckland into the new traffic light system, which we expect will occur soon after the 29th. Auckland will initially move into Red, the highest level in the traffic light.

“We are also confirming today that the rest of the country will move into the framework at the same time as Auckland. Those parts of the country with lower vaccination rates will move into the new system at Red, which has greater protections than the current Alert Level 2, meaning there will be stronger measures to minimise the risk of spread."

National has been critical of the government, with leader Judith Colins saying: “This is an announcement that in two weeks’ time there will be an announcement on what the cabinet will decide.

"This makes a total nonsense of the idea that we have to wait for public health advice to lift restrictions Aucklanders are currently forced to live under."