Iwi collective Te Ranga Tupua says the reason Whanganui, Rangitīkei, South Taranaki and the Waimarino regions have not seen an explosion in Covid-19 cases could be down to people "going bush".
Te Ranga Tupua has been sending mobile clinics into the least vaccinated areas of the four regions since early December in an effort to lift Māori vaccination rates. But now it's raising concerns that people are either not getting tests or failing to report rapid antigen test (RAT) results.
Mobile response co-lead Elijah Pue said the iwi collective's Covid-19 response could shift to include addressing testing issues.
"We've been really lucky - we haven't seen an explosion of cases," Pue said.
"But I also think there is an element of non-reporting - people going bush, people not reporting, people not getting tested, people not being enrolled at a primary practice.
"Definitely I think there are more cases out there than we actually realise.
"There are people in the rural areas who think they've just got the flu. If they're boosted, then they really think they've just got a mild flu."
Pue said differences in the reporting of cases by the Whanganui District Health Board and the Ministry of Health also meant it was difficult to get an accurate picture of the spread of Covid-19 in the regions.
"The DHB report a number, the Ministry of Health report a [different] number, and the DHB and the government have said in phase three of the Omicron approach they won't be able to report detailed case numbers.
"That's just how it is and we just have to deal with it.
"I have my own understanding of what the picture looks like here at home but I don't think anyone's numbers are going to be reliable from now on just because of the issues that people face in terms of testing and uploading a result.
"There are definitely more cases out there that we just don't know about because people cannot upload their tests."
Difficulty with reporting systems
The government seemed to have an expectation that people know how to navigate online reporting systems.
"Some of our people have issues in terms of wifi and smartphones and knowing how to navigate those systems. People are not reporting RAT tests just because they don't know how to.
"The challenge for Māori health providers is, if our people are struggling, to help them navigate the system so they can report their result in and we can help them self-manage."
Pue said the government was relying on a strategy that required people to self-manage isolation and illness but had not taken into account the variables confronting many Māori, such as lack of access to the internet, living in an intergenerational home, or, in some cases, members of the household all working for the same employer.
"All of these different variables make self-managing really difficult. The DHB and the government need to consider when they're making these rules that sometimes a one size fits all approach just doesn't work. It especially doesn't work for Māori communities."
Because the true extent of Covid-19 was unknown, it was important for people to remain vigilant with self-distancing and protection measures. This included limiting travel and where they go, wearing masks, sanitising and scanning, Pue said.
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