Wed. May 18th, 2022

On October 8, 2021, Northland moves to level 3 from 11:59 p.m. tonight after an Aucklander with Covid collected travel documents and spent several days in the region.

A leading Maori health researcher says there is now a real risk that the spread of Covid within the Maori community could have devastating consequences if many remain unvaccinated.

And if more positive cases start popping up around the country – especially in places with a high population in Māori – the situation could be as bad as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, he said.

Dr Rawiri Taonui said evidence showed that the Delta strain of the virus had spread much higher among Māori after Auckland dropped to alert level 3 just over two weeks ago.

Speaking to TVNZ’s breakfast program this morning, he said: “It is spreading to the marginalized periphery of the Maori community – and it has happened during the second week of the transition to level 3 in Auckland.”

Taonui said the things that tell officials are the number of random cases popping up in hospitals, the rising number of positive cases within gangs, the number of cases popping up in transitional housing and even yesterday’s reported link to the Auckland City Mission.

Dr.  David Taonui.  Photo / Delivered
Dr. David Taonui. Photo / Delivered

“It tells us that the spread has gone into the Maori community,” he told the show.

“It gets disguised below level 3 because a lot more people are moving around Auckland and crossing borders, and that puts us at great risk.”

Several Maori families need to be vaccinated against the virus. That was the key to removing this, he said.

Taonui said a person who is unvaccinated is 27 times more likely to be infected with Covid compared to a person who is fully vaccinated.

An unvaccinated person is 80 to 90 times more likely to be hospitalized, based on general numbers.

For Māori, the chances of being admitted to hospital after receiving Covid-19 are “probably more than 100 times more likely than a fully vaccinated person”.

The Covid situation may be similar to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918

“They are really, really serious numbers. With the case confirmed in Whāngārei last night and Delta already in four or five cities in Waikato, there is a real risk that Delta will move into demographic Māori areas with very low vaccination rates.

“So Northland, Lakes District, Plenty Bay, a little further south into King Country and Taranaki. If we start seeing more than 50 cases a day and then maybe 100, then we’re looking at a very serious situation similar to 1918..

“Like 1918 – the Spanish sick – in my opinion. I do not want to be right, but I think that’s what the numbers are starting to tell us.”

In October 1918, a more deadly wave of the new influenza strain arrived in New Zealand. In just two months – by the end of the year – about 9,000 people had died from the virus, which had also affected millions of people around the world.

A vaccination site at the Manurewa Marae in southern Auckland.  Photo / Michael Craig
A vaccination site at the Manurewa Marae in southern Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig

A New Zealand passenger and cargo ship, the Talune, would later take the Spanish sick from here to Samoa; when sick passengers were allowed ashore without being quarantined.

About 8,500 people in the island nation – just over a fifth of the population – were wiped out as a result.

Asked if New Zealand are trying hard enough in the battle to beat Covid, Taonui said: “The situation is so potentially really serious that we have to keep trying as hard as possible.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people over the last week and a half and they say ‘We have whānau sitting on the fence’.

“And I say to them, ‘Listen, push them out of the fence and make sure they land on the right side.'”

Behind the scenes at the Manurewa Marae Vaccine Center.  Photo / Alex Burton
Behind the scenes at the Manurewa Marae Vaccine Center. Photo / Alex Burton

When he talked about the low uptake of the vaccine among Maori, Taonui acknowledged that the approach to Maori and other vulnerable communities was to take the vaccine directly to them and not wait for people to show up at vaccination sites.

“It is important to take the vaccine to whānau, rather than expecting whnau to go to the vaccination center.”

Evidence showed that there was a greater uptake of the vaccine among Maori, with Maori health care provider groups being more accessible.

However, in areas where Maori health care providers were not available or readily available, there was a much lower vaccination rate among Maori.

Asked what he thinks the current overall vaccination rate among Maori is now, he said: “Just over 30 percent. That’s lower than what the government says.”

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