COVID-19: Health expert criticises move to ease restrictions despite lack of vaccination targets for Māori and Pacific peoples

New Zealand's new traffic light framework that will soon replace the alert level system has disappointed a public health physician, who's calling it unethical.

University of Auckland senior lecturer in Māori Health Rhys Jones has grave concerns about the easing of restrictions.

"It is extremely disappointing that the threshold used to determine easing of restrictions is based on total population vaccine coverage and doesn't include a requirement for a certain level of coverage among Māori and Pacific communities," he says.

The Government didn't set a vaccination target for Māori and Pacific peoples in the new framework, instead setting an overall 90 percent target for each district health board (DHB).

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday she wants DHBs to reach the 90 percent target, believing that further funding will boost vaccinations rates up.

"Funding Māori providers to accelerate the vaccination rates amongst our communities as well, coupled together with the incentive of vaccine certificates, we are eager and believe we will see those vaccination rates go up."

Jones says the additional funding to boost Māori vaccination rates is too little too late.

"This should have been the singular priority from day one. Māori should have been at the centre of the COVID-19 vaccine programme."

He says the vaccine programme is systematically privileged to non-Māori and non-Pacific populations.

"Not only have Māori in particular been neglected in the vaccine rollout, our communities may now be exposed to extremely high risk due to the failures in that rollout."

He says it is unethical to ease restrictions while vaccine numbers are so low for Māori and Pacific peoples.

"I believe it is unethical to significantly ease restrictions any further while vaccine coverage for Māori and Pacific remains dangerously low," he says.

"Māori and Pacific populations are at much higher risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19 than other ethnic groups, so it is essential that we get vaccine rates up as high as possible."

The Government's new COVID-19 framework will come into effect when DHBs from each region across New Zealand reach or are very close to 90 percent fully vaccinated.