15 Oct 2021

Covid-19 borders: Tairāwhiti iwi want to be part of planning and implementation

7:47 pm on 15 October 2021

Iwi leaders in Tairāwhiti want assurances from the government that their region will be protected from Covid-19.

Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chair Selwyn Parata

Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

The threat of Covid-19 is heightened in the region on the North Island's East Coast, including Gisborne, as it has the youngest population and the highest percentage of Māori.

Turanga Health CEO Reweti Ropiha said in Tairāwhiti, to manage the Covid-19 threat, they followed a simple premise:

"Many methods, connecting with whānau, whatever day, whatever time."

The Gisborne based primary health organisation is owned by the three Gisborne iwi - Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare was in Gisborne yesterday.

He told Morning Report he was asked by iwi leaders to put a border round Tairāwhiti so the region could be safe.

"That was what was mentioned to me on the marae when I was there yesterday, and I said I'd talk to the Police Minister and my colleagues."

Police Minister Poto Williams told RNZ it was an operational matter for police.

"However, what I can say is I know that police have a very effective and close relationship with iwi, and I have confidence in their ability to work together to keep our communities safe," a statement read.

Tairāwhiti Pirihimana (police) said they were working with local iwi to develop a plan to keep the community safe at all alert levels.

This is based on an existing police-led community support model in Northland.

Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chairman Selwyn Parata said he raised the prospect of locking down the rohe with Henare, in a whaikōrero on a paepae in a marae.

He spoke to him about concern on the increasing number of new cases, unlinked community cases and the rise of Māori testing positive for Covid-19.

He said he and other iwi leaders were aware of the high number of whānau in the rohe who had chronic health and respiratory conditions, and the limitations of the current Tairāwhiti health infrastructure.

Vaccination Centre Sign

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz urges people to get vaccinated this weekend Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Earlier this week, iwi chief executives met with police leaders to start joint planning for static and mobile checkpoints.

Parata also spoke with iwi leaders from the Eastern Bay of Plenty to start discussions with police in their region.

"Like Hone Harawira in the north, Tairāwhiti iwi want to be part of the thinking, planning and implementation of strategies to protect our borders from day one, not be brought in after the fact," Parata said.

He has had conversations with Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz about this.

He has not heard back about any decision.

The big worry is that regions like Tairāwhiti are not well prepared as other parts of the country if a Covid outbreak hits the community.

National's deputy leader Shane Reti expressed concern today.

"Our focus is on Auckland, as it should be 'cause it's got the greatest number of cases, but I'm really concerned if coronavirus spreads out to some of our more peripheral regions and the capacity of the intensive care units out of those regions."

For example, Tairāwhiti has six ICU beds, while Auckland City has 94.

In the weeks leading up to the outbreak, at some points Tairāwhiti's ICU was around 80 percent full.

But Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green said plans were in place - they had three new ventilators, putting their total at seven.

"We got additional ventilators supplied as part of the national programme to increase the ventilation capacity. We're also engaged in a programme of upskilling other nurses so that they can take part in helping us out should that be necessary."

They planned to split the ICU between Covid and non-Covid patients, and if it got worse had even more plans.

"If that's not enough, then we've got another area of the hospital that we would then turn over to managing people there as well."

Stoltz said there was one solution to avoid all of this - getting vaccinated on Super Saturday.

"Please come out tomorrow, come and get your shot. If you're still hesitating, ask your health professional, ask someone that you trust and we look forward to hosting you - we'll have barbecues, music, it will be a fabulous Tairāwhiti day and we're going to roll out the sunshine as well.''

There's about 11,000 people in Tairāwhiti that can still get their first dose, and the target for tomorrow is just over 1,000.

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