21 Jan 2022

Covid-19: Mixed reactions over Northland moving to 'orange' traffic light

9:05 am on 21 January 2022

Northlanders have expressed mixed reactions over the government's decision to move Te Tai Tokerau to the 'orange' traffic light setting overnight.

Border checkpoint in the far north

Te Tai Tokerau Border Control had put in place measures around Northland's border during the red setting of the Covid-19 Protection Framework. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

After a relatively Covid-free summer, Northland has moved out of 'red' for the first time since the traffic light system came in; a total 48 days.

The orange setting frees up hospitality venues that can now ditch gathering limits and physical distancing, provided they use vaccine certificates.

Hospitality New Zealand Northland president John Maurice said the change was long overdue and desperately needed by cafes and restaurants.

"It's about time we moved into orange, with the rest of New Zealand, because there's no doubt our staying in red has deterred a lot of visitors."

"Subsequently, the region's hospitality and accommodations providers have suffered as a result. So it's excellent news."

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith said he had mixed feelings about the change due to the normally-booming summer period nearing an end.

"You could argue of course, and I know it's easy in hindsight, that we shouldn't have been in red to start with. I guess orange is a step forward."

While businesses are celebrating this step-change in traffic lights, Tai Tokerau Border Control (TBC) has slammed the move as "bloody ridiculous".

The group - which helped police run December's checkpoints - maintain that Northland should stay at red until the population hits 90 percent doubled-vaccinated.

Northland DHBs vaccination rates currently sit at 89 percent single dose and 86 percent fully-vaccinated.

TBC leader Hone Harawira said they were given a day's notice to give feedback on moving Northland to orange and any feedback that was put to government had been ignored.

"Kaimaumau is the only place in Northland that should be switching between red to orange. Switching the Covid traffic lights from red to orange though is bloody ridiculous, and is not supported by either the iwi or health authorities in Northland."

He said Tai Tokerau Māori were already five times more likely to get Covid-19 and when Omicron entered the community it would have a huge impact on them because of health issues, low vaccination rates and close living quarters.

"If you get Delta in the home by the end of two or three days there might be just the one person who has still got it, you get Omicron within the home within 24 hours the whole household can have it."

Harawira said he did not understand the government's rationale for moving Northland from red to orange.

TBC regional coordinator Reuben Taipari said he felt stressed and disappointed when he heard yesterday's news.

He argued that Northland - with a larger Māori population, lower vaccination rates and worse economic and health indicators - was unique, and should be treated as such.

Taipari was also concerned the move to orange would affect Tai Tokerau Border Control's ability to protect its community, with Waitangi commemorations just around the corner.

"With the right security and authority we could do initiatives, run good campaigns and do vigilant checkpoints to ensure the events are managed and safe for our communities.

"It's our responsibility to push for better conditions for them and be part of that solution and it gets reduced when we can't stand up checkpoints or take our authority as enforcement officers."

Hone Harawira talks to Inspector Riki Whiu at Waiomio checkpoint in Northland

Tai Tokerau Border Control leader Hone Harawira talks to Inspector Riki Whiu at Waiomio checkpoint in Northland. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Waitangi draws an influx of visitors to Te Tai Tokerau but whether this will be the case this year remains to be seen as the government warns Omicron could be in the community any day now.

Northland Chamber of Commerce's Steve Smith said businesses would be hoping to claw back any lost revenue in the coming days and weeks but the threat of Omicron may mean Te Tai Tokerau's stint in 'orange' was short-lived.

"It'll be interesting to see how long we stay in orange with respect to the government's decisions in and around Omicron, but I guess that's something we can't really guess at this stage. We just don't know."

The government has made it clear that if Omicron pops up in the community, in cases not related to the border, all regions will move to the 'red' traffic light setting within 24 to 48 hours.

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