14 Dec 2021

Covid-19: Ongoing red light restrictions 'devastating' for Northland businesses

11:50 am on 14 December 2021

Northland event organisers are devastated they're spending the summer holidays under red light restrictions.

Russell in Te Tai Tokerau/Northland.

Business owners in Northland tourist towns like Russell are struggling due to ongoing restrictions under the Covid-19 Protection Framework. Photo: 123RF

Te Tai Tokerau is the only region that will be stuck at red come 30 December - that means good-bye to gatherings over 100 people for New Year's Eve celebrations.

The top of the country is the least-vaccinated region, with more than 14,000 people still needing to get a jab in order for the area to hit 90 percent double-vaccinated.

Jacman Entertainment director Jackie Sanders, who lives in the region, told Morning Report the decision was "devastating" for Northland.

"We've had to cancel festivals and events in September, October, November; all the Christmas stuff that we help with in the community up here was all cancelled."

Her business used a huge number of local suppliers whose livelihoods would also be impacted by the cancellations, she added, saying the "knock-on effect" would be huge.

"There's going to be people mothballing, putting their businesses into hibernations...

"A lot of people are 75 percent down on their bookings, why would you come to Northland, when it's the only place in red? ... it's really, really devastating for a lot of businesses."

She said while yesterday's government decision wasn't completely unexpected, given the region's lagging vaccination rates, it was a shock to hear Northland would be the only region staying in red for New Year's Eve.

"Our vaccination rates may be behind the rest of the country but ... we have a lot of people - businesses and iwi and Māori health providers - all working together to push those vaccination rates up.

"We've done everything right, everybody's really working hard to get through those last few, but our problem is that we're not going to probably get to 90 percent vaccination rate in this region, so how long do we get trapped in this red setting?"

However iwi health providers in the region took a different view, with one saying the message to get vaccinated was clear and Northland still had "a lot more work to be done" before it could move out of the red setting.

Ngāti Hine Heath Trust's chief executive Geoff Milner told Morning Report the move into the Covid-19 Protection Framework (also known as the traffic light system) had accelerated the uptake of vaccinations in the region.

"By way of comparison: about five weeks ago the unvaccinated number for Māori (in the region) was at 20,000; five weeks on that number has halved to about 10,000, so I think there's a lot of work being put in by the health system in Tai Tokerau, right up over the next two weeks right up to Christmas... to continue that dramatic response."

He was hopeful the government might review Northland's settings again before 30 December if the region managed a "stellar vaccination rate" in the next two weeks but maintained the onus was on Northlanders to achieve that.

"The message has been 'get your region to 90 percent double vaccination rate and you get to enjoy additional benefits'. Northland is not at that yet."

Milner said the region would welcome double-vaccinated visitors and those who had a negative Covid-19 test over the summer, regardless of what the traffic light colour was.

"I look around the cities of Whangarei, Kawakawa and they're as busy as they've ever been of late, so yeah, come north if you meet the requirements and enjoy the Northland summer."

He said there was good compliance from businesses with the Covid-19 regulations and visitors shouldn't let the traffic light system put a dampener on people's holiday plans.

"I've been out for dinner a few times in the last week - it's that time of the year - and everywhere I've gone I've been asked for my vaccination passport, so there is good compliance in Northland."

But Te Tai Tokerau Border Control leader Hone Harawira was unhappy tourists from other parts of the country would be allowed to visit the region while it remained in the red setting.

"They want us to take people when we're not even [at] 90, just because Auckland's 90. What sort of red light is that? That's a dumb red light," he told Morning Report.

He was supportive of the region staying in red to protect Northlanders, even if that had a negative impact on local businesses.

"We just need to focus on ensuring that as many of us living in Northland make it through to next year, so next Christmas we can be - hopefully - open to the whole world."

He said the border checkpoints that will be operated by police with iwi cooperation were another way to ensure Northlanders would be protected from Covid-19.

"We want to show the rest of the country that we're concerned about the health and wellbeing of the people of the north ...

"We want everybody to know that all we're trying to do is not stop Auckland, just to protect Northland."

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