A 'risky decision' going to level 3, says Covid analyst Professor Rawiri Taonui

By Mārena Mane

Covid-19 analyst Professor Rawiri Taonui says Aotearoa is not at the same level as New South Wales "yet" but this time the virus is considerably stronger and lasts far longer than predicted.

“The clusters, the 12 unlinked cases, risk of essential workers going across borders, the new case in Mt Eden prison and overseas cases in prisons have led to the widespread infection of other inmates. There's quite a number of risks there,” Professor Taonui says.

Māori and Pasifika make up almost 90 percent of cases in the last eight days, which is particularly concerning, and according to Professor Taonui, there were only 11 positive cases in the initial wave last year, 10 days before going to level three.

“In the last 10 days, we've had 182 cases of a Delta variant that's more infectious than the Covid variant that struck us in the first wave, so it would be a very risky decision to go down to level three too soon.”

If Auckland moves to level 3, he thinks it should be a “very strict level three” for two weeks.

“Let's congratulate Aucklanders for their efforts and give them access to 'McD’s' and KFC. But we have to be really strict about protecting the community,” Professor Taonui says.

Consequences of moving down a level for Auckland

Due to reports Saturday of individuals wandering down Kohimārama and the Auckland waterfront, socialising between different bubbles and half of the people not wearing masks, Professor Taonui feels Auckland may be suffering from lockdown fatigue.

He says the government must consider if moving Auckland to level three will result in a resurgence of social events resulting in a rebirth of a super spreader event.

“And, of course, in the middle of that...just on today’s figures...Māori and Pasifika over the last eight or nine days are dead equal in terms of the highest number of cases. It's just pretty much bang on 90 percent now, so we're very vulnerable,” he says.

Vaccination target of 80%

Although Professor Taonui believes a target of 80 percent of individuals receiving their first vaccination is a desirable goal, it will only protect half of Auckland's population because about 300,000 children do not qualify for the vaccine and another 200,000 people have not yet had a dose.

“Really, the key figure is trying to get to 90 percent fully vaccinated and, more than any other place in the country, Auckland needs to be heading in that direction.”

He says vaccination rates for people aged 20 to 34 years old are extremely low, both in Auckland and nationwide, at around 40 to 50 percent of the national average.

“We really need to get that up, those people are vulnerable to Delta...We need to protect their young people because, as we know, 40 percent of all cases are aged under 20.”

Incentives to get people vaccinated

According to Professor Taonui, the Māori and Pasifika communities have been pioneering in getting people vaccinated, whereas the government has been late to the party. The Pasifika community in Tauranga handed everyone a package of food in return for being vaccinated, he says.

“Tauranga ended up having the highest demographic for Pacific testing in the country, and we need a lot more of that.”

In comparison to provincial towns with no Māori or Pacific providers, Professor Taonui says that when there are “active” Māori and Pacific providers high rates of vaccinations are common.

“Innovation, thinking outside the box, and prioritising vaccinating those people, our communities are most vulnerable,” he says.