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Vigilance needed as COVID mutates
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A member of Māori pandemic response group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā is urging heightened vigilance as new strains of COVID-19 entering the country.

The first case of the more transmissible British B117 variant was detected on December 13, and there are now 19 cases in managed isolation.

Dr Rawiri Jansen says the new strain could get out of control quickly if it got into the community, but so far the systems put in place to keep the border safe have been excellent.

Recent steps, including testing people as soon as they arrive and also testing people before they get on a plane means health authorities have a better view of the cases they need to manage.

But he says the wider community has gotten complacent, and people need to keep up hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks in public and using the COVID tracer app.

“We’ve got a couple of months before we start the vaccination programme so let’s go back to being kia mataara,’ Dr Jansen says.

Meanwhile, the National Iwi Chairs Forum Pandemic Response Group has called on the Government to cap the number of people coming back into the country and reduce the number of active cases in quarantine.

Co-chair Mike Smith says the combined efforts of government, Māori organisations and the public at large that have avoided a public health disaster to date, but the global situation means there is still a risk of failure.

The iwi group has made six recommendations, including requiring all intending travellers to have a negative test before returning to New Zealand.

It also wants travellers to be tested as they disembark.

“The government must consider capping arrivals at 300 per day or 2,100 per week, and, when the number of active cases in MIQ reaches 20 to 30 cases, cap the number of entries to a lower level,” it says.

“The number of active cases in MIQ are no longer sustainable with world cases trending past 800,000 per day and no sign of slowing down, and the threat from new strains; at current levels, the number of arrivals into New Zealand are over five times higher than those for Queensland which has a similar population.”

It also wants the government to forward bring the vaccine roll-out, and to enter discussions with Māori to bring the vaccination strategy into line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

That includes recognition some Māori aged over 50 may be at higher risk from the effects of COVID-19 than their non-Māori contemporaries.

Mr Smith says work on establishing new international quarantine-free bubbles and group entry arrangements, such as bringing in seasonal workers, foreign students, sports teams and cultural groups, needs to stop because of the significant risk of a further outbreak, including by one of the new highly virulent strains of COVID-19.

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