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Its time to change up our approach to COVID19

There is no doubt that super Saturday has had the intended outcome – more New Zealanders, and more Maori, were vaccinated. What does that mean in numbers? There are a couple of figures that we need to be guided by that are probably more important than most – the total New Zealand Population that has been vaccinated (as of Monday morning the 18th of October) and that of the eligible population that has been vaccinated.

The first bit of data shows that 70% of New Zealanders have received their first dose while 54% have received their second dose with the race on to ensure that 54% continues to rise. But the other figure, until a vaccine is approved for our young population, is as important right now. When it comes to New Zealand’s total current eligible population that has been vaccinated the figures sit at 85% for the first dose and 65% for the second dose.

The overall number had a lift because of Super Saturday with 130,002 people vaccinated as did the Maori vaccination rates – but they too remain lower than average when compared to other population groups. And yet, of the active COVID cases right now (as of the 18th of October) 274 were Maori. That compares to 177 that are European, 127 of other Pacific Peoples and 34 of Asian ethnicity. This current outbreak is very much targeting Maori communities and Maori households. Of the age groups impacted 97 cases are listed as being under the age of 9 – our youngest and most vulnerable including babies. 81 cases are in the 10–19-year-old age group with a staggering 255 in the age group of between 20-39. Less than 25 of this outbreak are in the upper age group of 60+ confirming that Delta in Aotearoa is not the disease of old people some still think COVID19 is.

When it comes to the Vaccination status of cases and hospitalisations in Auckland's outbreak 943 were / are currently unvaccinated with 342 under the age of 12 and therefore not eligible for vaccination. As the current data tells us if anyone disbelieved that Delta and COVID19 in this outbreak is having a disproportionate impact on Maori then think again – the fact is – it is.

It has been long known that the first port of call of COVID19 would be Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most populated City for no other reason than it is the largest gateway into the country. It is the largest air landing point for New Zealanders returning home, tourists, migrant workers and crew. By the same token it’s also the largest entry point by land and sea when it comes to freight – and once both people and products land in Auckland they then head out across the country by road, rail and sea in what is our transportation, supply and logistics network. The complexity of containing Delta in Auckland doesn’t just hit the health crisis button, it also has a significant impact on the nation’s overall productivity. More people are working from home, according to data released by MBIE, with 769,00 during Alert Level 4 compared to 732,000 working from home in Alert Level 3 which is staggeringly higher than the same time in 2019 – and with more people working from home less people are in the office, with less people in the offer those smaller businesses around the periphery such as retail, malls and cafes are seeing minimal production – with many relying on Government stimulus and wage subsidies to get them through. During thos same Alert Levels 1,499,000 New Zealanders were unable to go to work in Level 4 while in Level 3 the number was still high at 683,000.

When it comes to the education sector all of our institutions are impacted from schools to Universities and Polytechnics. With term four starting today for the schools sector there is one large, and notable, absence. Auckland children will not be returning to school and all schools remain closed at the current Alert Level. Thousands of children and young people are now at risk of losing a full school year, with little or no value in exams, lost education and floundering in terms of prospects entering into 2022. Many more still are falling between the cracks with online classes missing a lot of students who are either too disengaged or not able to log on because of the gap in the digital divide – in all truth some of our most vulnerable families just do not have access to computers or devices let alone the ability to afford an internet connection.

And the quality of learning for these children is lessened by the simple reality that you just cannot learn in the same way as if you were together with a teacher and fellow students in a classroom environment – physically.

Then, as we arrive at the tail end of 2021 comes the big ticket item bought on by fatigue – mental health. In the year end to June 30th, 2021, 607 people died by suspected suicide, compared to 628 the year before - a decrease of 21 deaths, and a drop in the suspected suicide rate from 11.8 deaths per 100,000 to 11.6. While the second consecutive year drop is a good marker the reality being borne out by the current lockdown is the impact of mental health on individuals and whanau more generally. As we remain locked down the risk of breakdowns, increasing depression and anxiety all take their tolls – we know this because of early research out of the United Kingdom and the United States.

And that is the point of this article – many people, from across the ethnic, population and age divides are tired. They are fatigued and many of them yearn for greater freedoms – but tinged with the fear of Delta and its impacts.

There is no doubt that the Ardern Governments response has been targeted and, in the main, positive for New Zealand – especially when compared with most other countries around the world. We have enjoyed more freedoms, fewer deaths and greater domestic movement. Our economy has largely weathered a storm with unemployment much lower than predicted and net debt not being as high as some economists predicted. Our health system to date has not been overwhelmed and we have not faced the tens of thousands of deaths many others have. Largely, death has not visited our door as it has other countries. And yet, because of our struggle to convince some to get vaccinated, we may have become a little complacent. A little like the golden weather wasn’t going to end and we’d come out the other side smelling of roses.

And that is why it’s time for a change. To refocus our efforts at looking at the steps and measures needed to open up domestically and then, ultimately in 2022, internationally. Better ways of managing isolation, housing, education, the economy and our health system. Put simply the Alert Level system needs to be replaced and we need a more simplistic understanding of the steps needed to plot our future. Of course, we need to throw everything we can, including the kitchen sink, at getting our vaccination levels up – the ticket to additional freedoms.

But let’s be clear here – we cannot be left behind and whatever plan the Government comes up with we need to back it in.

Author: Matthew Tukaki, Chair of the National Maori Authority

Data: MoH Health Data / Ministry of Justice Suicide Numbers /  MBIE economic and workplace data / data as of the 18th of October 2021 8am


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