Coronavirus: Family of latest death describe 'big heart', 'immense love' of victim

The family of New Zealand's latest COVID-19 death have described the victim as having a "big heart" and "immense love" for his whānau.

Tokoroa man Nigel Huirama Te Hiko died aged 54 on Tuesday afternoon. He was admitted to Waikato Hospital on August 19 after contracting the virus from his brother, Alan. He died in the hospital's intensive care unit on Tuesday afternoon - almost two weeks after Alan also succumbed to the virus.

Te Kiho's family said his health had been declining over the past few years. While they said this slowed him, it didn't hinder him or diminish his attitude towards helping his iwi and people.

"His quiet humble determination to not be bowed by illness, and to continue to work and strive to complete his work, especially his compilation of a definitive Raukawa History, was an inspiration for us all," his family said in a statement.

"Nigel was definitely a leader in the whānau. He rallied whānau together. One call from him and everybody would flock to him.

"He was a father figure to all our nephews and nieces; he was the one they would turn to when they needed advice. He held the family together."

Te Hiko was prominent among the local Ngāti Raukawa iwi, and was regarded as an esteemed and well-respected figure, or rangatira.

The family said he has left big shoes to fill for the iwi.

"It was because [of] his big heart, and his immense love. He has so much love for whānau whānui. The door at our whānau homestead was always open, no matter what time day or night. The door and Nigel's heart was always open."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty Images

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield issued a plea on behalf of Te Hiko's whānau on Wednesday after confirming his death.

"The man's whānau has asked us to tell the country that coronavirus is so real, and to be vigilant and cautious," he told reporters.

"They have issued a plea to all New Zealanders - if you are sick and have symptoms, stay home and seek advice about getting a test.

"The man's death again emphasises the seriousness of this virus if it is not controlled and the consequences it can have."

Te Hiko's family said he worked for more than 20 years helping his people. First at the Raukawa Māori Trust Board, which would become the Raukawa Settlement trust. He also took a year out in 2006 to care for his mother before she died.

He developed skills as a researcher and historian, and his family said his thirst for knowledge and understanding stood him apart.

His colleague and Raukawa chairperson Vanessa Eparaima said Te Hiko had immense skills and gave "invaluable support" to many people.

"Nigel was a Raukawa historian whose love for knowledge and passion for accumulating and increasing his and his tribe's shared history and mātauranga leaves a lasting legacy," she said.

"He was an incredibly humble man, he did not crave the limelight, and was an immense pou of support often in the background, supporting leaders with whaikōrero when required, history and advice, and with the ammunition of research and knowledge which was crucial to the conclusion of the Raukawa Treaty settlement negotiations."

Te Hiko's death brings New Zealand's official COVID-19 death-count to 25.