New Zealand’s COVID-19 reopening plans leave Maori feeling exposed

COVID-19 lockdown still in place as outbreak of cases affects New Zealand
FILE PHOTO: A sign of an immunization center instructs the public during closures to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS / Fiona Goodall

December 2, 2021

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – As New Zealand prepares to ease its COVID-19 pandemic control measures and global isolation after nearly two years, the health risks to unvaccinated indigenous Maori people are placing challenges Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Some of the harshest pandemic measures implemented by the South Pacific nation on Friday, New Zealand will relax COVID measures this week despite the threat from Omicron – Prime Minister, with businesses Businesses reopened nationwide after the Ardern government abandoned its elimination strategy in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Domestic border restrictions at the epicenter of the Auckland pandemic will arrive at the end of December, and international border restrictions will ease gradually from January.

But as New Zealand’s businesses and majority European population welcome reopening before the Christmas holiday, some Maori fear it will be further disadvantaged.

“It seems that the Maori are the most profligate spenders in this country,” Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Reuters. “The Prime Minister intends to open the door before Christmas even if it comes at the cost of Maori.”

Maori, who make up about 15% of New Zealand’s 5 million population, now account for the highest proportion of new COVID-19 cases, averaging around 200 cases per day.

Like many indigenous peoples, the Maori are inferior to the rest of the population when it comes to measures of health and well-being. Only about 69% of eligible Maori are fully immunized compared with almost 90% of the rest of New Zealand.

Some community leaders blame low uptake on the government’s vaccination strategy, which prioritizes shots for the elderly. About 70% of Maori are under the age of 40.

This, together with institutional racism, a lack of trust in government and poor access to health for Māori living in smaller towns, means that, Maori leaders say is that many people are slow to immunize or are simply abandoned.

“We go through all the system-wide failures just because we are Maori,” says Ngarewa-Packer.


The new Omicron variant is raising Maori concern, but has yet to be seen in New Zealand, or affect reopening plans.

New Zealand will ease into the new ‘traffic light system’ from Friday with areas being included in red, orange and green zones depending on vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases .

Some Maori leaders have slammed the plan, comparing it to the traffic lights on the popular Netflix series ‘Squid Game’, where players who lose the game will be killed.

“The Prime Minister said that no one will be left behind. She means no one will be left behind, except the Maori,” another Maori Party co-leader, Rawiri Waititi, said in an Instagram post accompanied by a photo from the Squid Game show.

New Zealand was largely unscathed after its first wave of infections last year. Ardern said the government took into account the vulnerability of the Maori people early in its response to the pandemic.

“We knew it would have a disproportionate impact on our Maori and Pacific populations, which is why we took an approach to it,” Ardern said in an interview with Reuters. minimize the impact as much as possible and that leads to our elimination strategy.

Vaccination rates for older Maori are consistent with the broader population, she said.

“It’s our young people in some parts of the country where we don’t have higher rates,” she added.

The government has stepped up efforts to speed up vaccination of the Maori, including setting up teams to respond to the Maori pandemic – moves that critics say are too little and too late.

Now, as 1.7 million Aucklanders locked up for nearly 100 days prepare to head out for the summer break, some Maori leaders are taking steps to mitigate the impact.

In Northland, a holiday area popular with Māori, indigenous leaders are working with police to set up checkpoints to stop unvaccinated visitors.

“I think the reality is that the Maori are worried – whanau (the community) are scared of what they see coming and they don’t see anything good coming,” said Hone Harawira, former MP and Company founder. Border Control Te Tai Tokerau told Newshub’s AM Only.

“They want to know that their people will be protected first.”

(Edited by Lincoln Feast.) New Zealand’s COVID-19 reopening plans leave Maori feeling exposed


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