Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Wainuiomata Marae last Friday promoting Maori vaccination rates. Her critics say because they are low she should not have relaxed Auckland alert levels yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was under fire from her own supporters last night after what they argued was a backdown over Covid restrictions in Auckland.

Twitter was ablaze with criticism and much of it from her own side of politics.

Neale Jones, former Chief of Staff to Andrew Little, said he was hoping we’d hear a plan for a vaccine mandate to get numbers up to 90 per cent and then move out of lockdown.

“Instead, we got along and confusing surrender note,” he said.

“This is both a policy and a political failure.”

A former Ardern strategy advisor, Clint Smith, tweeted that he couldn’t see yesterday’s announcement leading to anything else other than a steep increase in cases and pressure on the hospitals and spread to other regions.

“Without kids being able to be vaxed and 20% of 12+ unvaxed, there is just too big a reservoir of unvaxed to catch and spread COVID,” his tweet said.

Otago Business School academic, a Maori and Guardian columnist, Morgan Godfery, tweeted, “our formerly great and strong prime minister, who is now weak and confused, has lost myself, Neale jones, and clint smith on the issue of this awful transition plan which gives you an idea of how terrible this is going to go for her base.”

On a Maori Party webinar last night, Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen, an Auckland GP and clinical director of the National Hauora Coalition – a clinical network of 57 GP practices — said the decisions yesterday meant Auckland was now seven weeks behind New South Wales.

And the Greens also attacked yesterday’s decisions saying the planned roadmap for Auckland risked the safety of vulnerable communities and children.

“Elimination has protected thousands of lives in Aotearoa,” said Green co-leader, marama Davidson.

“We have to stay the course to keep everyone safe.

“Now is not the right time to change our approach, particularly when so many of our vulnerable communities are still at risk.

“We need a clear coordinated approach which prioritises our most vulnerable right now. We have seen the tragic consequences overseas when restrictions are eased too early.”

However, Ardern might feel she can brush all this criticism off as Labour has bounced back up in the latest Morgan political poll to be published.

Labour picked up six per cent to go to 45.5 per cent, with the Greens up 2.5 to 9.5 per cent.

National was down two to 23 per cent and ACT up three to 16 per cent.

That is probably another nail in Judith Collins’ political coffin but will be seen in the Beehive as an endorsement of its Delta outbreak political management.

But it was taken before yesterday’s announcement, which has provoked anger on the left.

That anger is over Ardern’s move to relax some of the Level Three restrictions in Auckland and begin the transition out of elimination.

At the same time, the Government has not taken up the recommendations of a group of the Otago Medical School’s leading epidemiologists and public health academics to increase testing and begin an intensive targeting of vaccinations among Maori and the most vulnerable in Auckland.

Maori Health researcher, Dr Rawiri Taonui, told Te Ao news yesterday that Maori now comprise 18.9% (251 of 1,328) of all Delta cases.

In short, Covid is rapidly becoming a Maori issue.

Maori vaccination rates in Auckland, where the cases are being recorded, are lagging behind non-Maori non Pasifika rates.

First Dose Vaccinations Auckland %
MaoriNon Maori/Non Pacific
Auckland6790
Countie Manukau5587
Waitemata6385

That table challenges the Prime Minister’s central justification for modifying the requirements of Level Three in Auckland to allow for people to connect outdoors with no more than two households at a time, up to a maximum of 10 people; early childhood education will return for all, and people can move around Auckland for recreation such as beach visits and hunting.

Ardern said that at the beginning of the outbreak, the Government was continuing with its elimination strategy while Aucklanders were vaccinated.

“In the seven weeks since, those numbers are now 84 per cent (one dose) and 52 per cent (both doses) effectively doubled,” she said.

“So in people terms, it’s three hundred and eighty-seven thousand six hundred and forty-two more Aucklanders who are now fully vaccinated.

“And we can see vaccines are playing an important role.

“Only three per cent of cases in this outbreak were fully vaccinated.”

Ardern said we would now move out of the elimination strategy phase. But she was vague about what the new phase would be.

“We were always going to have to move to a place and intended to move to a place where our vaccines helped us so that we didn’t, necessarily every time we had a single case move ourselves into alert Level Three and Four,” she said.

But then she said vaccines wouldn’t be enough on their own. However, what would assist them was unclear.

“But we will be in a better position to remove those things that had been the hardest for us, and that is a transition New Zealand was always going to make,” she said.

“It’s been somewhat accelerated.”

After tomorrow’s extension of outdoor activities, the Government plans at some point to take two further steps down from Level Three.

“At step two, retail will open their doors, with the usual measures of wearing facemasks and keeping up physical distancing; public facilities such as pools and zoos will open, and the number of people who can meet outdoors will increase to 25.

 “Step three will bring back those higher-risk settings. Hospitality will open – seated, separated and with a limit of 50; close contact businesses like hairdressers will also open with mask use and physical distancing, and gatherings will also then extend to 50.”

So what will the threshold be to enable a step-down?

“It will be a combination of both looking at what’s happening with the outbreak, but at the same time also looking at vaccination rates as well and the impact that’s having on the outbreak,” she said.

“But the reason we haven’t put on dates is because we do intend to be very careful and methodical in each of our assessments and just ensure that we have a sense of the difference that some of those changes might be making.”

But Dr Jansen, quoting figures to show how the New South Wales outbreak had grown exponentially, warned that could easily happen here.

“If you can see what’s likely to happen in Auckland; at some point, this Delta will cause quite a huge burden on our hospital services and on our primary care services, and it’s going to get pretty uncomfortable,” he said.

And the question remains, what happens if there is another surge in cases in Auckland, now that Ardern says she has abandoned the elimination strategy.

“We eliminate while we vaccinate, and we are still vaccinating, which is why we continue to take that aggressive stamping out approach with every single case,” she said.

“What I’ve signalled is that over time, we will be able to transition from that state because we will have vaccines, which can do the job that previously levels three and four has done for us.

“They won’t be able to do it alone.

“And so last week you heard us talk about the things that need to sit alongside it, and it’s very much informed by international evidence.

“And what we see from different modellers.

“But this is just forecasting what we could see in the future.

“Right now, though, we still need to be very, very aggressive in that we don’t intend to change that plan.”

Which would seem to suggest that the elimination strategy is still in place; it is just not being called that anymore.

It is perhaps little wonder that even some of Ardern’s previously most ardent supporters are confused.