Iwi leaders urge kaumātua to stay home amid Covid-19 uncertainty

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People over the age of 50 in the Far North are being urged by iwi leaders to stay at home and those outside the region are being told to avoid travelling there until after 8 February.

The line of vehicles waiting for Covid-19 testing in Kamo. 26 January 2021

People queue in cars for Covid-19 tests in Kamo, Northland, this week.
Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Te Kahui o Taonui, Te Tai Tokerau iwi leaders, met yesterday to discuss how best to protect at risk people, including kaumātua, from the community case of Covid-19 in the region.

Ngāpuhi Pandemic Response project lead Tia Ashby was at the hui and said that if kaumātua did need to leave the home for important appointments, they should wear a mask.

“We just need to be vigilant and protect our whakapapa,” Ashby.

“Many [iwi] have now engaged resurgence protocols, we’ve mobilised our health workforce and extended testing hours [and] all these messages have been communicated out to whānau and to the wider community.”

Iwi across the region, which included Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa, Ngai Takoto, Ngati Kahu, Kahukuraariki, Whaingaroa, Ngapuhi, Ngati Wai and Ngati Whatua, would make their own determinations on restricting tangihanga, Ashby said, but the message was to keep them small where possible.

Ashby said Te Kahui o Taonui would review its protection measures and advice to whānau on 8 February.

Ashby said there was some criticism from iwi leaders about the DHB response, in particular the length of time it took for the locations of the infected person to be made public.

“Some within the iwi haven’t been that comfortable because there was such a huge delay in notifying people in the community and also there was a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty about how many more needed to be test.

“Now, we’re happy with the response, but initially we weren’t.”

“In saying that, I can see that you don’t want to create panic because the risk of transmission is low, however there’s still that risk and that unknown, you don’t know from the last time she was in the community who she may have come in contact with.”

Chairperson of Ngāti Kurī trust, Harry Burkhardt, who is also chair of the Northland DHB, agreed the rollout plan could be better.

Ngati Wai volunteers handing out supplies to those waiting to get tested for Covid in Kamo. 26 January 2021.

Ngati Wai volunteers handing out supplies to those waiting to get tested for Covid in Kamo on 26 January 2021.
Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

“However, the information we got back is the first day was the highest testing numbers we’ve done anywhere in New Zealand to date – in one day – and then we noticed the numbers went back when there was more clarity around who should be at those testing stations,” Burkhardt said.

“What was lovely about that space was iwi like Ngāti Wai and Ngāti Hine saw an opportunity to exercise their responsibility to manaaki those people there so they were there with water and fruit and keeping an eye on their kaumātua, kuia as well… so this is about when there’s potholes or holes in the service, we just naturally lean in because there’s no use arguing about who should do what, it’s about how do we protect our uri and our whakapapa.”

The main message for whānau was “to be vigilant”, he said.

“This is a precautionary note, we just don’t know and rather than make things up we’re just taking an overly precautionary approach.”

Ashby said while the DHB was able to rapidly distribute resources, iwi are better placed to send out messages and deliver testing to people.

“Iwi have a special advantage in that they know the people that they’re working with, they know the land, and can also provide services that are tailored towards the people within the region, so what I mean by that is that they know that not every person may have access to a vehicle to get to the testing station.

“They also understand that not all kuia and kaumātua will be listening to the radio or tv so they know these mobile teams can get these messages out through their own personalised channels and I don’t think it would be cost effective [for the DHB] to do that mahi.”

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