Coronavirus: Health Minister Andrew Little says vaccine rates need to increase in Gisborne/Tairāwhiti

Minister of Health Andrew Little says Gisborne/Tairāwhiti needs to increase its vaccination rate ahead of the summer period to move to the orange level.

On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the levels at which different parts of New Zealand will move into the new COVID Protection Framework. The new traffic light system, which will replace the current alert levels, comes into force on Friday.

Northland, Auckland, Taupō and Rotorua, Kawerau, Whakatane, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitikei, Whanganui and Ruapehu will move into red, while the rest of the North Island will start at orange. 
The entire South Island will move into orange. 

Under the red setting, Gisborne's annual Rhythm and Vines festival won't be able to go ahead. 

On Tuesday Little defended placing regions such as Gisborne into the red setting.

"The reason, particularly in Auckland and Northland, is we have an outbreak well underway there and also in Northland we have lower vaccination levels than we would like.

"They are places where there are lower vaccination levels, and certainly lower Māori vaccination levels, and places where we expect people are going to travel to in numbers during the summer break. So we do need to have some precautions or some restrictions in place to stop the crowding and the overcrowding."
Little said Gisborne especially needs higher levels of vaccination. 

"We definitely need to see the vaccination levels in Tairāwhiti go up, particularly for Māori. I mean there's been a lot of concern in the community about Rhythm and Vines because people are terrified about a whole hoard of people coming down… vaccination levels need to get up to that 90 percent including for Māori. The health system is coping at the moment and we are confident it will continue to but we've got to get those vaccination levels up."

Only 86 percent of people in Tairāwhiti have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with just 75 percent fully vaccinated. For Māori in the region 80 percent have had their first dose but just 65 percent are fully vaccinated. 

And there's concern about among the community about the festival going ahead. Tairāwhiti iwi is urging the festival organisers to cancel the event. 

Te Aitanga a Māhaki chairman Pene Brown told festival organisers last week it poses a risk to the community. 
"We are concerned about the additional stress and pressure the festival would place on local health services, shops and accommodation owners who would be on red alert," Brown said.

Comments made by Health Minister Andrew Little during this interview have now been clarified.
In an email, Little's press secretary said the Minister was speaking about the health system broadly, not what was needed for settings to change.

"When the Minister referred to getting vaccination rates to 90 per cent, and particularly for Māori, he was talking about his expectation and goals for the health system, and not explicitly about what would be needed for a particular area to change levels.

"As he’d said earlier in the interview, the Government is taking a cautious approach on traffic light settings and a range of things is being taken into account, including the presence of COVID-19 infections, vaccination rates and whether they are places where a lot of people are likely to travel to over the summer break," his press secretary told Newshub.