Hamilton hopes for green light to move into Auckland's Covid-19 traffic light system

Hamilton city councillor Sarah Thomson floated the idea of asking for Waikato to move with Auckland into the Covid-19 traffic light system.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
Hamilton city councillor Sarah Thomson floated the idea of asking for Waikato to move with Auckland into the Covid-19 traffic light system.

Hamilton plans to ask officials to move Waikato into the Covid-19 traffic light system when the region and Auckland’s district health boards all hit the 90 per cent vaccination mark.

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said it made sense given Auckland and parts of the Waikato were sharing the same level 3 restrictions.

But a Covid-19 modeller said setting up a boundary to stop the virus spreading between Waikato and the rest of the North Island poses more of a challenge than maintaining the current Auckland border.

And those advocating for Māori were worried about moving to the traffic light system too quickly.

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Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said plans to meet with health, iwi and police authorities to discuss the idea of moving into the traffic light system with Auckland.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said plans to meet with health, iwi and police authorities to discuss the idea of moving into the traffic light system with Auckland.

Southgate said she would speak with the iwi, police, Waikato District Health Board and MIQ for feedback on the idea before officially approaching the Ministry of Health.

The idea to include Waikato in the traffic light system was floated by city councillor Sarah Thomson and over the weekend achieved support from the mayor and councillors.

Thomson said at the moment Auckland would move to the traffic light system once its three district health boards reached the 90 per cent target.

But Waikato could only move once all 20 district health boards reached the target and projections suggested that might not be until February.

Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura chairwoman Linda Te Aho said the health and wellbeing of people should come first when making any decisions on changes to the way the region manages Covid-19.
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Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura chairwoman Linda Te Aho said the health and wellbeing of people should come first when making any decisions on changes to the way the region manages Covid-19.

“Right now people are feeling despondent and hopeless in terms of the uncertainty around when we can go back to life with fewer restrictions.

“We just need a plan b to give us some hope.”

Southgate agreed and said if Waikato had high vaccination rates it should be “on a level playing field” with other centres like Auckland.

“But I’m not a health expert and it’s important to understand what the health risks would be if we moved with Auckland into the traffic light system.

TOM LEE/STUFF
"If there are any more cases of Covid in Kāwhia, we want to know quick," Raukura Hauora o Tainui chief executive Terina Moke said, from a testing station set up in the wake of news of more positive cases in Kāwhia.

“There’s also the logistics of it all because Hamilton is a much harder city to cordon off.”

Southgate said Waikato was a critical economy for the country, businesses were struggling and many would not make it through to next year under the current restrictions.

There was still hope of a move to level 2 under the current system.

“If we can’t we need the health authorities to tells us what is the rationale for us remaining in a greater degree of lockdown?”

Professor Michael Plank said Waikato should stamp out the tail end of the outbreak before making changes to alert levels.
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Professor Michael Plank said Waikato should stamp out the tail end of the outbreak before making changes to alert levels.

Waikato-Tainui Te Arataura chairwoman Linda Te Aho said the health and wellbeing of iwi was the paramount “decision-making factor” when it came to Covid-19.

“And so we have been very nervous and concerned about moving too quickly into the traffic light system if Māori don’t reach 95 per cent vaccination, which is what we’ve been advocating for, for the eligible Māori population.

“Often there are underlying health reasons why whanau can't get vaccinated or issues that have led to a legacy of mistrust in the Ministry of Health or Government systems, so people are wary.”

Te Aho said Waikato-Tainui still strongly supported on a health focus on any decisions made to change levels or systems to manage Covid-19.

It also supported the statement made by Kiingi Tuheitia: “Amohia ake te ora o te iwi, the health and wellbeing of the people is paramount.”

Professor Michael Plank from Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury said letting Waikato join Auckland under the traffic light system would make it difficult to prevent Covid-19 spreading to other parts of the country.

“The Auckland boundary, though imperfect, is geographically located in a way that makes it relatively easy to control.

“Establishing a boundary between Waikato and other parts of the North Island would be much harder.”

Plank said he understood people in Waikato desperately wanted to move out of level 3 but the safest way for that to happen would be to “stamp out” the tail end of the outbreak.

He said the country was still in a “dangerous part of the pandemic” and for the next month it was crucial to limit the spread of the virus while increasing vaccination rates as quickly as possible.