Coronavirus: Vulnerable communities with low vaccination rates not keen to see Aucklanders this summer

Community leaders in parts of the country with low vaccination rates are urging Aucklanders to think twice about spending summer there. 

From December 15, Aucklanders will be allowed to leave the city - the epicentre of the Delta outbreak - as long as they're vaccinated or had a recent negative test. 

But there won't be a hard border, with just spot checks being carried out - meaning some unvaccinated people, much more likely to be infected, could slip through the cracks. 

"I'm glad that they're getting out of Auckland - I wish they wouldn't come here," one Wellingtonian told The Project. 

"I would like them to stay home - just this Christmas please, stay home," said another.

But it's not Wellington experts are so worried about - at 88 percent of the eligible population double-vaccinated, it has some of the highest coverage in the country. 

Tairawhiti - on the North Island's east coast - has just 73 percent coverage and Northland 74 percent

"I just don't like the thought of Aucklanders coming up here," a Whangārei local told The Project.

"To be honest, I would like to see them stay home," said another.

"Right now, we're not ready," said Hone Harawira, former MP and founder of Te Tai Tokerau Border Control, which has been working with authorities to protect the north. 

"Te Tai Tokerau Māori are still running about 60 percent double-vaccinated. It's improper and immoral to think you can just unleash Aucklanders on a vulnerable population like we have in the north."

Harawira has previously said Te Tai Tokerau Border Control will continue to operate under the new traffic light system, saying spot checks "will be a failure". 

"The Government can't talk about how serious it is, then say, 'Actually we don't care if you don't get vaccinated - you can still go up north.' That's not what we're saying. That's not what our community is saying." 

In Tairawhiti, Māori are at 62 percent coverage. Māori are also statistically younger than average, meaning a higher proportion of their population isn't even eligible for the vaccine, which is currently only available to people 12 and over. 

"We have high rates of diabetes and respiratory illness," academic and advocate Tina Ngata told The Project. "We also have very crowded houses as well, so there's a high chance that once it gets into the community, once it gets into a household, everybody will be very sick and requiring help."

Tina Ngata.
Tina Ngata. Photo credit: The Project

Holidaymakers would also be putting themselves at risk by going east, she said, if the area suffers an outbreak.

"If there is an accident… we won't have the health services to look after you." 

Aucklanders have been in lockdown for more than three months now, waiting for the rest of the country to catch up to their nation-leading vaccination rates. 

"More time was needed for Māori and Pacific vaccination rates to catch up with other groups, given the initial vaccination roll-out… prioritised other groups to get vaccinated first," said Dianne Sika-Paotonu, University of Otago immunologist.

"Accessibility issues still persist for hard-to-reach communities. High double-dose COVID-19 vaccination levels for Māori and Pacific peoples of at least 90 - 95 percent will still be needed to help keep our most vulnerable communities safe from COVID-19."

Ngata made it clear her reluctance to welcome visitors from the super city this summer isn't anything personal.

"Aucklanders have been like our 'Hodor'," Ngata said, referring to the Game of Thrones character who literally - spoiler alert - held a door shut to save his friends from a horde of evil monsters.

"They've held it down for the nation and kept the harm from us, so I feel a lot of love for our whanau from Auckland."

Not everyone The Project spoke to was so concerned however - one Northland business owner said he couldn't wait for the floodgates to open, with dozens of jobs on the line if the border wasn't opened.