2 Dec 2021

'Risk too high' for Whanganui when Auckland border reopens

2:38 pm on 2 December 2021

A Whanganui iwi leader is urging holidaymakers to reconsider plans to visit the region this summer to protect Te Awa Tupua communities from Covid-19.

The Whanganui River, also known as Te Awa Tupua.

The Whanganui River, also known as Te Awa Tupua. Photo: 123RF

Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chair Sheena Maru said members of the iwi were concerned about the risk of holidaymakers visiting the region in coming months.

She said they were lucky the region had avoided Covid-19 cases during the latest outbreak, but that could all change when the Auckland borders reopened this month.

In Whanganui, only 62 percent of Māori are fully vaccinated. Maru said this meant part of the region was still vulnerable to the virus.

"We know that many whānau derive their livelihoods from businesses along the Awa and as its community we must learn to live and work with the virus at some point," Maru said.

"But we recognise that currently, the risk is too high for our people, and we need to achieve higher vaccination rates before we move forward collectively, or our kaumatua and mokopuna are at risk.

"We've had a lot of our own people, communities and others reaching out to us to see what is our stance, we wanted to get behind our communities and support them and give them a voice. So that's why we are asking tourists to reconsider their plans in the next few weeks as we head into summer."

Maru said there was a heightened sense of anxiety in the rohe about the reopening of borders.

"We know that a lot of people will escape those big cities and come to us. We're not quite ready so we are trying to build our defence mechanisms through lots of things like information, informed decisions and vaccinations because we've got a low vaccination rate of only 62 percent for Māori."

She said they were working with the Whanganui District Health Board, iwi and Māori providers to inform and encourage families to get vaccinated.

"We're asking for more time, our people and our community at large need to know more before they do that [get vaccinated] so that's what we are doing," Maru said.

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

Maru said several marae along the isolated Whanganui River Road remained closed.

"Our whānau and hapū are rightfully making their own decisions about what is right for them, and we are supportive of the stances they take to keep themselves safe from the virus.

"This is what it mean's to live as Te Awa Tupua, each taking care of their place for the greater collective."

The area has been popular with tourists over the past 18 months because people had not been able to travel overseas.

Maru said Whanganui District Council and Whanganui District Health Board were supportive and were helping to get the community prepared for an outbreak.

"We just want people to think twice about coming to our beautiful rohe."

This follows announcements from other iwi around the motu who have also told tourists to reconsider their holiday plans.

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