People in Northland want to move up from Alert Level 2, after cases were found in the region, Shane Reti says.
National’s deputy leader said Northland was feeling nervous after four people - family members - tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days .
“What I’m hearing from everyone in the community, certainly from iwi and certainly from business representatives as well and in general discussions, they’re enthusiastic to actually move up a level and keep ourselves safe until we know what the testing environment shows us,” Reti said.
He also pointed out that the Government had moved Northland to Alert Level 3 earlier in the month even though no cases were found in the region. That move came after two women who were Covid-positive - who have no links to the current Northland cases - visited the area.
Two of the four Northland cases were announced on Friday afternoon and are currently isolating in Kaikohe. The remaining cases were confirmed on Saturday.
Reti said it was concerning that there wasn’t information about whether there were any locations of interest in Whangārei yet.
“That’s a problem - we need that information.”
He was also concerned that the stormy weather in Northland would mean fewer Covid-19 tests would be completed.
How can New Zealand keep increasing its vaccination rates?
The Government said earlier this month moving Northland to Alert Level 3 was required because the Northland visitors were uncooperative, and that the region had low vaccination levels.
Northland DHB has the second-lowest first dose Covid vaccination rate of all DHBs in the country at 77 per cent of the eligible population. That rate is even lower for eligible Māori in the DHB, which is at 64 per cent for first doses.
On Friday, the Government announced its new traffic light Covid framework . For areas outside of Auckland, to move to the new system and away from the current alert levels, every DHB in the country must reach a 90 per cent double-dose vaccination rate.
It would be a “real challenge” to get Northland to the 90 per cent mark, Reti said.
He said about 11 per cent of parents in Northland had taken their children out of the routine immunisations programme. If that was used as a proxy for adults’ uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine, “that really starts to push us to the 90 per cent”.
“And then we add the hesitant on top of that. It’s going to be a challenge.”
When asked if he was comfortable with the Government’s targets, even if Māori vaccination rates were behind those of non-Māori, Reti said he didn’t want to place blame on any particular ethnicity or DHB.
“I’m really enthusiastic that we do not stigmatise Māori. This is not a Māori problem - it’s all of our problems and it’s all of our responsibility and privilege to fix,” he said.
“We should be watching them [Māori vaccination rates] so we can understand where the resources need to be applied … but that shouldn’t be a factor that holds us back.”
The Government’s target of 90 per cent is higher than National’s proposals .
In National’s Opening Up plan , the party proposed moving away from current pandemic restrictions once 85 to 90 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
It also set a target of an 80 per cent vaccination rate per DHB for people over the age of 12 as a milestone.
National also set age-specific targets, saying that in each 10-year band above 12, at least 70 per cent of its eligible population would need to be fully vaccinated.
When asked whether National or the Government’s plan kept Māori safer, Reti said: “The work we have put into the Opening Up plan … is a really good starting point.
“We didn’t have the money that they [the Government] announced this week.”
Reti welcomed the Government’s announcement of a $120 million fund to accelerate Māori vaccination rates , but said he wanted to see more details about how the money would be spent and how the Government would measure success.
He suggested that the money should be spent on building long-lasting infrastructure for Māori-led vaccination programmes, going beyond the immediate pandemic.
Reti also had a few ideas about how the Government could improve the vaccine rollout; he has spent the past few weeks in Northland administering Covid vaccines.
“What we observed being out in those remote and rural areas is that if we deliver care closer to the home and close to the bedside, make it easier for people to do the right thing; they will come and be vaccinated,” he said.
He said accessibility also made a big difference in people getting vaccinated.
One-on-one conversations with people who were hesitant about the Covid vaccine also helped, Reti said.