22 Sep 2021

'We've drawn a line': Rotorua rails against any extra MIQ hotels

8:38 am on 22 September 2021

Rotorua leaders are up in arms about the possibility of more quarantine hotels in the city, one of which could neighbour a marae wharekai.

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Rotorua's Sudima Hotel has been used as an MIQ facility. Photo: Sudima Hotel

With more than 20,000 people trying get into the country, the government has been scoping out hotels that could be used as extra managed isolation facilities.

One potential site is at Whakarewarewa, the historic thermal area on the city's outskirts, where about 60 people - many of them kuia and kaumātua - live among the cloak of steam at Te Marae o Pakira.

"They're all vulnerable, you know," said Aneta Morgan, a spokesperson for Tūhourangi. "They've lived there for generations leading a simple life, they rely on their natural resources for cooking, for bathing, their homes are simple."

Across the steaming stream is the marae wharekai, and towering over it is the neighbouring Holiday Inn, which the government is investigating as a possible isolation facility.

And that's got Tūhourangi - the iwi of Whakarewarewa - up in arms.

"To have this put on top of them, I mean, we closed our village during level 4. Now we're looking at having an MIQ stand right next to it [and] we've got the new variant of Covid that is highly transmissible," Morgan said.

Rotorua already has three isolation facilities and the head of the Te Arawa Covid-19 response group, Monty Morrison, said the city had offered significant manaakitanga to them.

But the Ngāti Whakaue rangatira said all of Te Arawa's hapū had come together to say no more.

"We have put a line in the sand," he said. "When we first met officials some six to eight weeks ago it was a polite no then and we gave the reasons why. Since that time we have consistently said no," Morrison said.

"We as a community here in Rotorua, and Te Arawa specifically, are carrying more than our share."

Te Arawa was not alone in holding the stance.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick has said three was enough, as has the local Chamber of Commerce. They said it would take up space for the tourism industry, particularly when several other motels were being used for emergency housing.

The Lakes District Health Board has also said any extra facilities in the city would be a strain on its resources.

Māori Party co-leader and MP for Waiariki Rawiri Waititi said the region was being exploited.

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Rawiri Waititi. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"Rotorua and the Te Arawa people have often said that they have done their fair share of the heavy lifting, and now they feel that this particularly manaakitanga is being abused," he said.

Waititi said 40 percent of the Rotorua population was Māori, the community most vulnerable to Covid-19.

The DHBs that cover Te Arawa rohe, Lakes and Bay of Plenty, were also some of the worst performing when it comes to the vaccine rollout for Māori.

A spokesperson for MIQ confirmed it was investigating additional sites in Rotorua, but no decisions had yet been made.

But with a queue of more than 20,000 people it was on the hunt for sites that matched its criteria, with Christchurch and Rotorua under the scope.

But if they decide on Rotorua, they can expect a fight.

Morgan said: "We're just not confident that they're listening and that they're taking into account our concerns".

She added that Tūhourangi was planning a protest at Whakarewrewa on Saturday.

"We're getting the same response - 'a decision hasn't been made, we have to weight up all the factors' - but the factors for them are around efficiencies and budget, nothing to do with the wellbeing of our community."

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