Time running out for regional centres to reach 90% before orange light turns on

By James Perry

Ruapehu District has one of the lowest Covid vaccination rates in the country but on December 30 will join the rest of the country, bar Northland, in the Orange Light setting. 

That could see an influx of visitors to the region, which boasts a special landscape that attracts both summer and winter visitors.

Under Orange, that will allow the hospitality industry to open without limits, provided it uses the My Vaccine Pass. 

Elijah Pue, of Ngāti Rangi, a councillor on Ruapehu District Council, says the region is working hard to lift the vaccine rate, which sits below 80% double jabbed, but he is still wary of the potential danger an influx of visitors to the region's trout fishing, or hiking trails can bring.

"Yes, it's big around Ruapehu, the tourists that come during summer and winter, but they need to come safely, wearing masks, with the scanner app, a vaccine pass and all of those things to keep the locals safe. Don't bring the virus to Ruapehu," he urges potential visitors.

Going to the people

He says the local iwi collective, Te Ranga Tupua, made up of iwi groups from around the wider Whanganui area, has been working hard to get as many people along the Whanganui River vaccinated as possible.

"We don't want people to come to us, we're going to the people to vaccinate. We're also supporting families so they're prepared if the virus makes its way to their families,"  Pue says.

He was speaking to Te Ao Mārama before the government's announcement. Pue says moving the region out of Red too soon could be too risky before the Te Ranga Tupua teams can complete the job.

"if the Māori vaccination rate doesn't get to 90%, we don't want to move from the red light. That's our challenge to the government: Don't only look at the general public to get to 90%, Māori need to get to 90% as well. That is where the focus needs to be."