September 30, 2021
Dr Rawiri Taonui | Māori pay hefty price as Government loses control of Delta OutBreak
Ignoring advice from experts and Māori and Pacific leaders, on Monday 20 September, the government decided to move Auckland to Alert Level 3 from midnight the following day. It is now clear that the Alert Level 3 decision was premature. There is ongoing ‘unlinked’ community transmission and the government failed to prioritise vulnerable Māori and Pacific communities.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced 45 new cases, 23 are Māori and 20 Pacific. The Māori figure is the highest for a single ethnic group since 2 September. At 16.9% of all cases in the Delta OutBreak, Māori exceed our 16.7% population demographic for the first time.
Cultural Double Standard
The Level 3 decision reflects a cultural double-standard. When the government announced a North Shore Pākehā man was the first Delta case, the country immediately moved to Level 4.
By contrast, the day before the Level 3 decision, Māori and Pacific were 15 (68%) of 22 new cases. On the day of the decision, we were 11 (78.6%) of 14 new cases and the day after 15 (65.2%) of 23 cases. The decision would have been quite different if these numbers were on the North Shore or in Remuera.
When the decision came out, this writer penned a column arguing there would be a further surge of cases in Māori and Pacific communities. Since last Wednesday, the first day of Level 3, Māori and Pacific make up 89% of all new Delta cases (130 of 146).
Minister for the Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said that rises and falls in the number of Level 3 new cases are ‘to be expected’. However, comparing the numbers from the 17-days between Level 3 and Level 2 from last year’s First Wave alongside the eight days Auckland has now been at Level 3, contradicts that statement.
The First Wave went to Level 3 after nine consecutive days of between five and nine cases. The Auckland Delta OutBreak went to Level 3 following nine days between 11 and 33 new cases. This suggests the government kept to a planned timetable irrespective of what was unfolding in the Māori community.
Over the first eight days of Level 3 last year, daily cases numbered six or less and 23 in total. There were 23 on just the first day of Delta Level 3. The Day 8 total of 146 is six times higher than last year. Day 8 last year saw a first zero-day; Day 8 this year 45. How these numbers combine with a hyper-infectious Delta to justify a Level 3 decision defies belief.
And if that is not worrying enough, over the full 17 days between Level 3 and Level 2 last year, there were four days of zero cases and just 35 cases in total. At the current rate, if Auckland went to Level 2 on 8 October (17 days after starting Level 3), the total could reach 240 to 300.
Close Contacts and Families vs Community Transmission
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield was at pains to explain that 33 of the 45 new cases were among household or close contacts to which he added a vague ‘many were already in isolation’. Minister Hipkins pointed out that ‘we are dealing with some very large families’. We can accept this because compared to less infectious variants of Covid-19 Delta is more likely to infect all family members isolating with a confirmed case.
Dr Bloomfield also said he believed at least six of the remaining 12 cases are linked to other known cases and that this group may well be related to essential workers. This explanation does not explain the continuing number of unlinked cases, 15 over the last fortnight; the random cases showing up at Middlemore and Waitākere Hospitals, and the recent subcluster centred on temporary accommodation, transitional housing and/or a boarding house.
It is difficult to comprehend how the ‘essential worker’ profile fits. What does fit is that the government and Ministry do not have control over Delta and that there is community transmission. Going back to the level change, more Aucklanders travelling about under Level 3 is not helping elimination. With further easing of Auckland border travel restrictions already planned, there is a threat of a runaway event. Auckland cannot move to Level 2 until ‘unlinked new cases are halted’.
Māori and Pacific communities are paying the price for a premature Level 3 decision. Daily stand-ups include abundant kiaoras and kiakahas, but little expressed concern about the surge in our communities. The media is mute.
Since the Māori community surge began on 11 September, we have been the highest number of daily cases eight times and the second-highest ten times. The total number of Māori cases has risen by 147 to 208, over three times higher than the combined increase in the Pākehā, MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African peoples) and Asian communities.
There have been no new cases in the Pākehā community for three days. Let us hope this is not the criterion that shapes government decision making for it cannot be that levels go down when Māori cases go up.
Noho haumaru, stay safe.
Dr Rawiri Taonui