2 Dec 2021

Whanganui mayor backs iwi's plea for holidaymakers to steer clear of region

8:05 pm on 2 December 2021

The mayor of Whanganui is supporting an iwi leader's call for holidaymakers to steer clear of the region this summer.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said he can understand that Covid vulnerable communities might not want an influx of tourists. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Hamish McDouall said with the low Māori vaccination rates in region, he can understand why iwi would want visitors to stay away.

The fully vaccinated rate for Māori in the Whanganui District Health Board is 67 percent - just under the national rate for Māori.

The region is also trailing behind for the general population - 79 percent compared to 86 percent nationwide.

McDouall said he could understand that the vulnerable communities along the Whanganui River Road in particular would not want an influx of tourists increasing their risk profile.

"We've got to remember Covid doesn't drive a car, Covid doesn't get on a bus. It's the people carrying the Covid that are the concern.

"And so essentially I support the Ngā Tāngata Tiaki's stance of saying 'look, actually we'd prefer you to stay home'."

McDouall said he still expected people to travel to Whanganui - especially to visit family - but he urged them to observe Covid-19 protocols if they did.

"If you're coming to Whanganui for Christmas to see relatives I can understand that, but just bring all that personal responsibility with you when you're leaving places that have Covid.

"And most importantly, if you're feeling sick - don't come."

He said his own Auckland-based mother-in-law would be visiting her grandchildren over the summer, for the first time in six months.

Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chairwoman Sheena Maru told Midday Report, it took the stance after receiving feedback from the community.

"Well obviously as you know there's a heightened sense of anxiety around our rohe as the borders start to open and we know a lot of people will escape those big cities and come to us. Well, we're not quite ready."

Maru said hapū and iwi were building up their defences through the spreading of information and a continued vaccination drive.

"That's the thing is that we are asking for more time. Our people and our community at large need to know more before they do that.

"Like other iwi around the motu we're standing up opportunities where we are going into the corners of our communities to those who can't necessarily access vaccination stations that are currently here. So, we're getting on the road."

Maru said each region's story was different but she supported other iwi also asking for holidaymakers to consider staying away.

In Whanganui opinion on Ngā Tāngata Tiaki's stance was divided.

Mike was all for it.

"We want to be safe in Whanganui, in our community. Kei te pai."

Bill was not in favour.

"They've got as much chance to get the jab as we have."

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Sonny and Jula Teki Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Sonny Teki lived at the marae at Koriniti on the Whanganui River Road and could see the sense of it.

"It's difficult to have visitors come down there ... we don't know who's been vaccinated and who's not."

Barry did not think it was fair.

"I think people should be able to come here if they're double vaxed and got their passes."

Bob has some sympathy for the iwi's position.

"I do kinda like believe that the government's not done enough to protect the Māori and Pasifika people."

Whanganui is one of several regions that will wake up in the red zone tomorrow morning.

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