23 Nov 2021

Race to vaccinate South Auckland ahead of traffic light system, businesses hoped for earlier opening

10:37 am on 23 November 2021

Auckland is preparing to open for business while providers in South Auckland are still working to boost the vaccination rate. The city's mayor says there's been plenty of opportunity for people to get vaccinated and those who aren't will have to carry the burden themselves.

Central Auckland on Wednesday 25 August 2021 on the eighth today of a Covid-19 lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / John Edens

New Zealand will move into the traffic light system from 11.59pm Thursday 2 December. At the time of entering the red traffic light, Tāmaki Makaurau will have spent over 100 days in lockdown.

Manukau Ward Councillor Efeso Collins says people are struggling to understand what the traffic light system means but are glad to have a date when things will change.

Now the focus is on continuing to boost the vaccination rate, he said.

"Our focus has been completely on ensuring that we reach deep into the parched crevasses of our community to make sure people get vaccinated.

"I think that's the only defence we have available to us the minute we start to open up. I'm really proud of the efforts on the ground."

Pasifika GP Network chair Api Talemaitoga agrees and says the community and providers have put in the hard effort to boost vaccination rates.

"The message has been to reach out to a neighbour or maybe a family friend. It's easy to talk about getting vaccination with people like us who might have a car or could take an hour out to go and get vaccinated but what if you're a 24/7 carer looking after someone with an inability to get out and access one of those vaccinations."

Collins says the challenge now is getting to the last few people and making sure people who got their first dose are getting their second dose.

"The door knocking campaign has been where it's essential."

He says its good to keep in mind the Pacific population is a much younger population.

"There's research now that suggests that incentivisation should have been used earlier because that's what is attracting some people to the vaccination process."

A testing station at the Samoan Assembly of God Church in South Auckland's Māngere.

A testing station at the Samoan Assembly of God Church in South Auckland's Māngere. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Experts estimate that Covid-19 pushed thousands more children into poverty, and public health leaders are sounding the alarm of a "silent epidemic" of mental illness among those at the centre of the outbreak in South Auckland.

Talemaitoga says providers on the ground in South Auckland have stepped up to give families the support they need, when someone has Covid but also when there is anxiety and mental illness.

"What I'm a bit worried about is we may get to see a bit of the illness get into violence as well in families. We need to keep a really good eye on that."

'Many businesses are excited to open but still extremely concerned'

Auckland city centre business association Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck says while it's great to have a date for opening, a lot of businesses are disappointed they can't open on 1 December - as they had been planning for.

"Many businesses are excited to open but still extremely concerned about the conditions they're facing," she said.

"We asked for this in October and the reason for that was we wanted to bring urgency for the vaccination and secondly to give businesses that certainty, so we asked for it quite a long time ago.

"I don't think it's clear to people why we need to wait ten days now, if the technology is working and it's all available."

Every day counts, she said.

"We know that once the border opens people will start to move away and we're certainly hoping people will come in."

"Every day that Auckland businesses are not operating at full capacity is an issue," Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said.

"There are a few bits of the puzzle that are missing right now."

The process for enforcing and verifying the vaccine certificate is among the things that businesses are seeking clarity on, she said.

Many members have also raised concerns about security at their business, she said.

'Light at the end of the tunnel'

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told First Up Auckland is now one of the most highly vaccinated cities in the world.

"We are working on a situation where we are following the advice of health department officials. If you would be purist you'd keep everything in lockdown and you'd still try to supress but the end result of that would be enormous damage both to people and to the economy."

Goff says we're reaching the point where at a household level there is a growing number of people not observing the restrictions.

"You can't push people further than they're prepared to go. I think we've had plenty of opportunity now for everybody in the Auckland region that wanted to be vaccinated to be vaccinated."

He said at a certain point those who aren't vaccinated will need to carry that burden.

"If you have any symptoms at all, please don't travel, please don't take the virus with you that will infect the people that are your friends and the people who you love in your family. We've got to be cautious, we've got to be careful."

It's great to have the freedoms back but it's not time to let your guard down, he said.

"I think there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Queenstown and Rotorua tourism

Destination Queenstown chief executive Paul Abot told Morning Report because the bulk of the community in Queenstown relies on tourism the vaccination rates are high.

"At this stage we're ready, we're focused and we're good to go."

Most operators have been doing everything they can to retain key staff and have spent the downtime on training and upgrades, he said.

Rotorua's deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said tourism operators have been at the forefront of insisting staff are fully vaccinated, he said.

But the city, which had more than 3 million visitors per year pre-pandemic, is sitting at a 76 percent vaccination rate - one of the lowest in the country.

Donaldson agreed the city could do much better with its vaccination rates but he doesn't think it will impact the experience of travellers to the city.

With its current vaccination rates he says it's likely Rotorua will start in the red light.

"Everything that those with vaccine passes want to access is ready and waiting."

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