Saturday, November 27

Low Covid-19 vaccination in Ruapehu raises concern over reopening plan

There is growing concern in the central North Island that the region will be at high risk from Covid-19 when an expected influx of visitors drops once the northernmost borders reopen.

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Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Vaccination rates in the Ruapehu district are some of the lowest in the country, with 65 percent complete vaccination.

Auckland residents wishing to travel once the restrictions are lifted are expected to approach or pass through the area.

The Ruapehu district has not had any positive cases of Covid-19, but the neighboring districts of Waitomo and Ōtorohanga, King Country have.

Mayor Don Cameron believed it was not a question of whether the virus would strike, but when.

” There will be a lot of people visiting and obviously this area is known as a tourist destination, particularly for Aucklandites, ” said Cameron.

“I am not convinced that the vaccination certificates are ready and we do know that many false certificates are circulating, which worries us a lot.”

High on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron says large numbers of tourists are putting considerable pressure on the district's water infrastructure.

Ruapehu District Mayor Don Cameron says the area is known as a tourist destination.
Photo: RNZ Insight / Laura Dooney

Outsiders would be in the area long before 90 percent of its residents were fully vaccinated, he said.

” We have a lot of anti-vax sentiment and whenever there are doubts about vaccines. More hesitation between Pākehā. Anti-vax more among the Maori, I think you would say. That is always hard to beat. ”

Waitomo District Mayor John Robertson shares his fellow mayor’s concern.

Your district has an active case and is willing to keep the number of cases so low.

” Once Auckland opens and if Auckland locals travel, that will potentially bring more Covid cases south, so I’m not sure how we handle it, or how the government tries to deal with that, I don’t think it’s clear . ”

Ruapehu Federated Farmers president Luke Pepper said he was scared by the idea that Covid-19 would be brought to the region, due to low vaccination rates.

“It’ll spread like wildfire all over the district and they’ll fuck us, I think, and that’s where we’re headed,” Pepper said.

“We have a fairly normal health system here, although they are good doctors and nurses, but we are more than two hours from Waikato Hospital, which is our main center.”

Maori vaccination rates in the region are low, with just over 40 percent of second doses in the Ruapehu district alone.

Taumarunui Community Kokiri Trust CEO Christine Brears had no doubt that the virus was on its way to the region.

” It’s really scary. Currently, Taumarunui doesn’t have any Covid identified here, so once the borders are lifted and everyone flows, I think everything will be gone and I don’t think it’s too far away.

” To be honest, it would be nice if [we] I could put up stop signs and say he can’t go in, but I think it’s a dream, it’s going to happen and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. ”

He doubted that the region could cope with a major outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

Farmer Luke Pepper agreed that the region would simply have to live with any outbreak, because putting borders around it was not feasible.

” I really think we should open it, but it should be up to the people, the DHBs, the government to come here and help vaccinate these people or establish a plan of what will happen if we have 10, 20 people a day. day picking up Covid. ”

Pepper said the irony could be that once the virus was in the community, tourists would avoid the area.

“We were always worried that Auckland locals would come to Taumarunui and people would say if you’re from Auckland don’t come here, stay away, we don’t want you.

“I think it’s going to be the opposite in a couple of months, when Christmas comes around, when things open up. We may not see Auckland locals. They may not stop here to buy gas, food and make sightseeing”.

Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron said that once the borders were opened and traffic began to flow, a system may need to be put in place to verify vaccination certificates and make sure they are correct.

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