Fears for Māori as New Zealand opens up amid Omicron wave

New Zealand is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with some 93 percent of people over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.

But as the country prepares for a wave of Omicron, Māori experts say New Zealand’s response has left the Māori population uniquely vulnerable.

And they say racist policies are to blame.

“We’re seeing racial rhetoric coming to the fore,” said former Māori Council chief executive Matt Tukaki.

“I’ve never seen so much racism in the past two years. The irony is what we are all attempting to do here is to prevent people dying prematurely from a preventable disease.

“It’s disheartening that Māori weren’t considered a priority from the get-go.”

Before Omicron, there was Delta

Even before Omicron arrived, a report in December from the Waitangi Tribunal – a commission that deals with public claims brought by Māori – warned that the government’s vaccination plan put Māori at “disproportionate risk of Delta infection” compared with other ethnic groups in New Zealand.

It added that decisions had been made without adequate consultation, and despite strong opposition from Māori community leaders.

During the consultation process, Māori representatives found the authorities failed to jointly design and engage with Māori on the plan, finding the approach at times disrespectful. The lack of adequate protection for Māori afforded by the government’s vaccination policy resulted in prejudice, the report read.

Data until December 13 showed Māori made up half the country’s infections with the Delta strain, 38.6 percent of hospital admissions for the variant, and 45 percent of associated deaths, according to the tribunal report.

Māori make up only 15.6 percent of the population, it noted.

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