Iwi urges Taranaki residents to get vaccinated after positive wastewater test

Residents of three North Island regions are nervously awaiting COVID-19 testing results after their wastewater tested positive.

Samples from Taranaki, Gisborne and Napier returned positive results in the past 48 hours, but it's too early to know if there are active COVID cases in the community.

Ngāti Ruanui is taking a new approach. Desperate to get vaccine rates up, it has community members rolling through Stratford in a van with a boom box, urging locals to get jabbed.

"It's totally your choice. We're just here to get the word out that we're here for you," one says.

They're herding people down to their pop-up clinic where Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is doling out the Pfizer.

"Do it for your family. Do it for yourself," one resident says. 

Jimmy Winiata and his daughter Angel are doing just that.

"Get your fellas' asses down here and get vaxxed. Do it for your family."

Ten minutes down the road in Eltham, community leaders are struggling to reach the unvaccinated.

"Always got doubt. I suppose a lot of people don't like being told what to do. That's the other issue. It's been bloody hard," says iwi leader Jim Turahui.

That's why the Prime Minister visited the rural town three weeks ago. It has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country with only 55 percent fully protected. Turahui says some churchgoers refusing the vaccine are partly to blame.

"They believe in God and other things they think will help them. In today's world, it doesn't," he says.

Taranaki is one of three regions that received a positive wastewater test this week. Gisborne and Napier could also have community transmission.

"There has been a sense of inevitability throughout the whole country that there's a likelihood of getting a positive wastewater result or a positive case of COVID," says Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise, 

"I think there's a sense of concern. People are anxious because we do know COVID is on our doorstep," says Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz. 

A positive sample was taken from a wastewater site in Stratford. It could be from a recently recovered MIQ case still shedding the virus, or it could be visitor to the region with the popular garden festival on at the moment. But because it was a 'strong positive' result the DHB fears there's undetected COVID in the community.

Testing lines were smaller on Saturday. The DHB had collected just over 200 swabs for the whole Taranaki region by midday.