New Zealand’s government would be committing “modern genocide” by reopening the country as Covid spreads among under-vaccinated indigenous people, the Māori party has said.
The comments come as the country is struggling to contain its current Delta outbreak, with 95 cases reported over the weekend, and another 35 on Monday. Most current cases and hospitalisations are among Māori and Pacific New Zealanders, despite the fact those groups make up less than 30% of the total population. New Zealand is also in the process of pivoting away from its longstanding elimination strategy.
“Māori are now presenting over half of daily cases. We need to be placed back into a level that will break the circuit of this outbreak for Māori,” co-leader of the Māori party Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said on Monday.
“If the government is prepared to open the borders as soon as our country is 90% vaccinated, they are willingly holding Māori up to be the sacrificial lambs. It is a modern form genocide.”
Modelling by research centre Te Pūnaha Matatini found Māori were 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19 than non-Māori, after controlling for age and pre-existing conditions. Pacific people were three times more likely to end up in hospital with Covid.
On top of that, Māori are more likely to have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes and asthma, that put them at greater risk if they contract Covid-19. The government has also come under fire for failing to adequately engage Māori leaders and health providers in the vaccine rollout.
“At every stage of this pandemic, the government has ignored the advice of our Māori experts. They have left us out to dry. Their elimination strategy only focuses on the general population. Their vaccination strategy only focuses on the general population. None of which commits to the survival of the indigenous people of this country” Ngarewa-Packer said.
Figures from last week show Māori are behind all other ethnic groups for vaccinations. Only 57.6% have had their first dose – compared to 74% for Pacific communities, 81% for European and 96% for Asian. Case numbers in Auckland began rising after the government lifted the level 4 lockdown in Auckland, the city at the centre of the outbreak, allowing many businesses to reopen.
While prime minister Jacinda Ardern has not yet made any promises to open the border once vaccination rates rise above 90% in the general population, the government has indicated that it was a key milestone.
Te Pāti Māori said it had met on Monday with the Māori King Tūheitia and Māori leaders across New Zealand “to agree on a unified approach to ensure the survival of Māori as the reality of Covid hitting our communities is imminent.”
“How many Māori deaths are the crown prepared to live with? One is too many for us,” co-leader Rawiri Waititi said.
“We are now in survival mode and we are calling on the government to move Auckland into level 4 and the rest of the North Island into level 3 immediately until Māori are 95% vaccinated. Failure to do so is committing our people to death by Covid.”
Asked about the comments on Monday afternoon, Ardern said “I disagree with that”.
“In my view, the urgency is across the board but yes there is greater urgency for Māori because we have seen lower rates,” Ardern said. “But again, let’s celebrate the high rates as well and particularly for our over-65s, they are impressive.”