As New Zealand changes its coronavirus policy, indigenous groups such as Maori fear a rising death rate

Christchurch, New Zealand – On Saturday, New Zealand reported its largest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day: 160.

The South Pacific nation has been virtually virus-free in most cases of the pandemic, decimated by a combination of border restrictions, quarantine requirements, testing, contact tracing and extended lockdowns. In August, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered a nationwide lockdown after discovering one case, the country’s first in six months.

More than two months later, the lockdown has continued in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, but the outbreak caused by the more contagious Delta type of virus has grown to more than 3,000 cases.

With little hope of returning to “zero Covid”, New Zealand is now turning away from its politics, following other Asia-Pacific countries such as Australia and Singapore to try to find a way to live with the virus after largely evading it for so long. .

Lockdown measures are set to end once 90 per cent of those age 12 or older are vaccinated, which is expected by the end of next month. But as restrictions ease, the number of cases is expected to rise, and critics say New Zealand’s minorities will pay a higher price, including the indigenous Maori population.

Compared to New Zealanders in general, Maori have higher poverty rates, lower access to health care, and are more likely to live in larger families where the virus can spread more easily.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern receives Pfizer’s first COVID vaccine in Auckland in June 2021. Alex Burton Profile / AP

“We’re about to see a lot of Maori die,” said Indigenous rights activist Joe Trinder.

The lack of cases in New Zealand has kept the number of Covid-19 deaths among the lowest in the world, at 28. But government models suggest that by next year, the number of cases in the greater Auckland region could reach 5,300 a week, an amount of Approximately the number of New Zealand recorded since the onset of the epidemic.

This has raised concerns among Maori and Pacific Islanders, another minority, both concentrated in Auckland. The two groups represent about a quarter of New Zealand’s population but Three quarters of cases and hospitalizations in the current outbreak. They have too Low vaccination rates, with just over half of Maori eligible for full vaccination compared to more than 73 percent of the total population.

“There will be a lot of tanji,” said Trinder, using the Maori word for funerals.

Health workers and a Maori warden at a COVID testing site in Christchurch, New Zealand. Adam Bradley/Ciba USA via AP

Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, blamed social inequality for the recent spread of deltas between Maori and Pacific islands.

He said, “Many were living in precarious housing, in some cases suffering from mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction. Contact tracing proved very difficult in this population, and infection continued to spread despite massive efforts to control the outbreak.”

Government medical advisers have argued that the high vaccination rate will limit the number and severity of virus cases as more New Zealanders are exposed to the disease, preventing hospitals from overburdening themselves as they were in the United States.

“Between 90 to 95 percent of people who get Covid-19 will develop a mild viral illness that does not require any treatment, but will need to be monitored, usually at home,” said one of the consultants, Dr. Jeff Lowe, this month.

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Sally Dalhousie, Chief Operating Officer at PhonoAn affordable health care provider in Auckland said such a plan puts the burden on the community.

“You will succeed if you have a small family and a reasonably sized house,” she said. “When you have a large number of people crammed into a small house, it is not a viable solution.”

Critics say New Zealand’s lockdowns have been disastrous for low-income families in other ways, too. Even before the outbreak of August, Estimates by the Auckland-based Child Poverty Working Group suggested that an additional 18,000 children were pushed into poverty as a result of the first shutdown last year. The group said Maori and Pacific Islanders had borne the brunt of the wave.

Officials said last week that more low-income families are eligible for weekly cash grants.

They also announced spending tens of millions to increase the rate of Maori vaccination, which got a huge boost this month in the “Super Saturday” mass vaccination campaign for all New Zealanders. But efforts have been hampered by the spread of vaccine misinformation among Maori and Pacific Islanders, who Trinder said have a high level of mistrust toward the government based on their experiences of injustice and oppression.

Candice Locke of Pataka Kai, a national food storage program, said she was reluctant to tell her fellow Maori that she was vaccinated “until someone higher than me got her.”

“If you’re part of a larger community, like a church group or a cultural group, and they make a collective decision not to get vaccinated, it’s very difficult to go against the current because that’s your support system, which is your family,” said Locke, who lives in Auckland.

A campaign volunteer during last month’s vaccination event in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Experts say Maori vaccination efforts against Covid-19 have been more successful when led by respected members of the community. Dr. Rachel Thompson, a general practitioner at the local health clinic, said more than 70 percent of the population in Te Wano a Abanoi, a Maori community on the North Island, had been fully vaccinated even before the August outbreak.

Thompson said the clinic worked with the community, including the local tribal council, to vaccinate selected members of each of the thirteen tribes, who spread the word to others.

“Maori were empowered nationwide to provide a service of their own early on,” Lu said, “we would be in a better position.”

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