A number of Māori and Pacific leaders are concerned that the government’s response to the resurgence of Covid-19 won’t be enough to protect their communities.
Where the first Covid-19 outbreaks were predominantly among those who had travelled overseas, largely missing communities with high-density Māori and Pacific populations, the latest outbreak originating in South Auckland has put a far more vulnerable group at risk.
Lawyer and children’s advocate Julia Whaipooti wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the government and Ministry of Health Covid response must centre Māori in decision making “as a matter of urgency”, pointing out that in the flu pandemic Māori were eight times more likely to die.
She went on to say that there’s a chance some people who get sick will continue to work because they can’t afford not to. Funding should go immediately to Māori and Pacific health organisations so that those people can go to healthcare facilities they trust.
“The current Covid wave in NZ is impacting our people. This is not the time to play politics with our lives. And it is never the time to prioritise the economy over our lives.”
Compounded by lower incomes and essential but low paid mahi this places pressure on already under pressure whānau. COVID response can't just be the economy but centre M&P communities when the majority of the economy is built on the shoulders of keeping brown people poor.
— Julia Whaipooti (@Jubes11) August 15, 2020
Māori epidemic response committee Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā have even called new plans to quarantine all positive Covid-19 cases in an MIQ facility ‘racist’ and ‘patronising’.
The group’s co-leader Dr Papaarangi Reid told Stuff: “It’s racist on its assumption we don’t have the skills and the decision-making power to make good decisions.”
The policy that people who test positive for covid go straight to quarantine, away from their families, will actively discourage people from getting tested.
What impact do you think this will have on testing levels for single parents or caregivers with dependent loved ones?
— Gina Rangi (@GinaRangi) August 15, 2020
The director general of health says the decision was made to stop transmission within the home, and that as long as the relevant medical officer of health is happy, other arrangements can be made. “One of the families in the Marist cluster was in isolation for 46 days because they kept sharing the virus with each other,” he told reporters at Friday’s media update.
Despite assurances, around the country, iwi are once again making preparations to protect their vulnerable.
Ngāi Tūhoe have a resurgence plan but they’re hoping that there will be less travel this time and check points won’t be necessary again if the area goes into alert level three or four. They are following the current recommendations for level two, and distributing masks but as usual, with an eye on the possible impact for the environment. A recent Facebook post asked “Shall we go with the cheaper disposable option that will be here this week? Or the reusable option that we may have to wait a bit longer for? Or shall we get both?”
Te Whānau ā Apanui, who were the first to lock down their aukati borders with checkpoints in and out of the rohe in March, have announced they will be doing so again under level two. They’re also trying to asses how many iwi members there are in Auckland in order to better support them, and encouraging people to join the Te Whānau ā Apanui ki Tāmaki Makaurau Facebook page.
Ngāti Ruanui chair and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa Packer has also confirmed that Taranaki iwi will push for regional road blocks if a case turns up in the region. “And if the government won’t, iwi will run checkpoints anyway,” she told followers on Twitter.
In Te Tai Tokerau, robust plans are underway due to its proximity to Auckland. Mana Movement leader Hone Harawira told The Spinoff that too many people have slipped through the Ngāti Whātua-assisted checkpoints posted at Wellsford to prevent Aucklanders from leaving the region.
“The police, the army and Ngāti Whātua’s massive checkpoints just north of Te Hana, they’ve done a good job, a very bold effort. Unfortunately, because it’s driven by the police, with the support of iwi, rather than by iwi with the support of police, the tenor of the questions has been a little light. Not as demanding as they would be if we were running them,” he said.
Harawira says that plans are now being made on “how best to get rid of” those who shouldn’t be sheltering in Northland.
“We can put in the check points we had last time. We can work with the police as another option, with mobile patrols, or we might consider other action like a sweep right through Te Tai Tokerau, from the Cape [Reinga] all the way down. Basically call in at every tourist camp and holiday park and say ‘pack up you’re moving’.
Despite his reputation as a man of action, Harawira’s not looking to be a vigilante. “We’ve worked really well with the police and our aim is to maintain that good relationship with them. Our aim is not to be kicking down doors and throwing people out onto the road. But it is to be firm and positive and clear. Who cares what their reasons are, we really don’t care. They shouldn’t have come up in the first place.”
Harawira said he was due to discuss options with a number of coordinators around Northland on Friday.
“Then we’ll sit down with the local inspectors, Inspector Tony Hill, Inspector Riki Whiu and Inspector Chris McLellan, and talk to them about how we might work together, and establish check points to reaffirm the message on the main highways at least.
His message to those not taking the measures seriously, and especially to those protesting the restrictions in Whangārei on Thursday, was unequivocal.
“I can’t believe how stupid and foolish some of our people are,” he said. “Anybody who thinks that Covid-19 is here because of 5G needs their head read.”
“This is not an acceptable practice,” he continued. “A lot of our people are under threat from Covid-19. There’s distinct likelihood that some of our people could die. Our job is to protect our people from the impact of Covid-19, not to dance around like it’s a joke. If any of those people get in the way, they’re going to be moved aside faster than we’ll move the tourists.
“They belittle the kaupapa of tino rangatiratanga. There’s no sovereignty in stupidity. There’s no leadership. Let’s fight this as hard as we possibly can. If we are wrong, then next year let people laugh at us. If we are right, I don’t want to get to next year and have to go to a whole lot of tangi because we made a mistake.”
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.