An iwi race to vaccinate its community is concerned about the impact easing restrictions will have on Tāmaki Makaurau.

Antony Thompson says an influx of people traveling to rural areas will threaten the most vulnerable.
Photo: DELIVERED / Te Runanga Ngāti Whātua

It comes as the country is preparing to transition to the traffic light system and Tāmaki Makaurau is waiting for the borders to open.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua has been working with police, healthcare providers and iwi since the lockdown to contain the spread of the delta outbreak.

Operations chief Antony Thompson said the influx of people traveling to their rural counties will threaten the most vulnerable.

He said they were really concerned because vaccination rates were still lagging behind in their raw and their resources were exhausted.

“Concerned – we are very concerned about what December 15th will look like.

“As many people know, we’ve been at the borders with our Kaitiaki for 101 days, working with the police and the navy, we were there hand in hand.

“We’re really concerned because we know the vaccination rates aren’t at the 90 percent we’d like to see, we’re getting there and we’re still pushing,” he said.

The iwi has set itself the task of coping with the delta eruption and within the perimeter of the border with Auckland as much as possible.

Although Delta has spread to different regions of the country, Thompson said iwi’s staff and partners have been monitoring these outbreaks and they are manageable for now, but if there is more regional travel, their capacity could be at risk.

He was particularly concerned about the influx of people traveling across the border from Auckland to Northland, where the Rūnanga extends.

Thompson said Te Tai Tokerau staff and vendors had stepped up their efforts and made progress, but they were still focused on reaching 90 percent overall vaccination status.

“When you look at the situation for Te Kahu o Taonui, the 12 iwi from Te Tai Tokerau in the north, we are working together with everyone to get better results …

“We need to get our vaccination rates up to a certain level so we know we have good protection against possible outbreaks.

“People have replied and we have a lot of wnau who have come forward to get vaccinated,” he said.

Raising resources was the main problem the iwi faced as it tried to prepare for a possible increase in community cases once restrictions were relaxed.

The iwi was already deploying its resources to vulnerable whānau in the community while working with marae and other local providers to expand their health and health services to all.

Thompson said helping monitor Covid-19 positive people isolating themselves in their homes is an added effort.

“We don’t have the resources and we don’t have all the extra staff on board to handle every single incident in our raw material.

“Some of our remote churches are an hour away from the nearest ward or hospital, sometimes up to two and a half hours, so we need to be considerate of anyone who needs these services.

“There are many other things to think about as contingencies when looking after churches,” he said.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Whātua built its capacity as much as possible, providing basic services to the people and continuing to share information in preparation for the transition to the traffic light system and the opening of the border with Auckland.

Thompson said government communications in support of iwi providers about the new decisions have been weak and this has put further pressure on them to adapt quickly.

“It is extremely frustrating not to be part of this decision table… we have knowledge and a number of recommendations that we would like to make.

“The Prime Minister said the Crown was working with iwi in Te Tai Tokerau. Nobody has actually called us yet, Ngāti Whātua was not spoken to, but we made approaches.

“We have to rethink, retrain, and remake a lot of what we do,” said Thompson.

The Rūnanga meanwhile prepared additional resources, infrastructure, health and social services in order to be ready when restrictions are relaxed.

They called for more precautionary and safety measures at Auckland’s borders when the city opens, signage along the streets warning unvaccinated travelers, test stations along the highways and, ultimately, an increase in resources from the Department of Health and the Northern Regional Health Co-ordination Center.

The iwi urges the whānau to restrict travel when the traffic light system begins to protect their population.