A flying visit to Auckland was left unmarked by protests that have affected her recent visits to other parts of the country
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s visit to Auckland was in many ways the polar opposite of Tuesday’s protest outside the Beehive.
As she arrived at the Fale o Samoa in Mangere to visit a vaccination drive organised by a Pasifika youth group, she was greeted once more by a crowd of people holding signs and flags – but on this sunny Wednesday morning in Auckland, the mood was more in her favour.
After a tour of a factory in Avondale and informal visits to businesses she’d been in touch with, Ardern arrived at the fale to dancing, music and applause.
A visible police presence in addition to her not widely publicising her itinerary meant that if there were any protesters who planned on making an appearance, they may have showed up at the wrong location. Indeed, a small group of protesters did gather outside of Government House in Epsom with an effigy of the Prime Minister.
But in South Auckland the mood was as sunny as the weather, with representatives from Pasifika Youth United thanking the PM and calling her aunty, before she took the mic and dished out her own thanks for the work communities have done in South Auckland to drive up vaccination rates.
This comes as Counties Manukau hits the target of 90 percent of the eligible population with one dose, and 80 percent fully vaccinated. This means the DHB still has more than 40,000 jabs to give out before the milestone that will allow Auckland to move to the traffic light system.
Speaking to press at the event, Ardern said business leaders she had spoken to that morning were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
She said she made some informal visits to businesses she frequented in pre-outbreak times when based in Auckland. In response to the idea she had not managed to hear out many business owners or Aucklanders in general, she said time was short – and this would just be a first visit.
She also acknowledged it would be impossible to canvass the whole range of feelings about the lockdown across the city in a single day, but rejected the idea she was out of touch with Aucklanders.
“Auckland is my home – and because Auckland is my home, my friends and family are here,” she said. “[They] work in many different businesses and different organisations that have been affected by Covid as well. That’s the nature of being in politics in New Zealand – we will all have connections, whether it’s in our professional lives or our personal lives.”
The visit coincides with in-person retail opening up across the city, a move that will no doubt be a relief for the business sector.
However, as case numbers continue to climb, the return of such freedoms comes with the worry of vulnerable communities experiencing disproportionate amounts of exposure.
When asked if she was concerned with the loosening of restrictions affecting the Pacific community, Ardern said the initial easing was targeted to lower-risk areas, and she was comforted by the vaccination rate within the community.
“We have seen very high rates in our Pacific community, and I’d put that down to the work that’s been down within the community,” she said. “Of course, we want to make sure that we get everybody who is eligible vaccinated.”
The event represented the union of a wide range of Pacific groups, who came together to form Pacific Youth United.
A volunteer from the Tongan community was happy to see Pacific people come together to share their expertise on the best way to get people in to get vaccinated.
“We’ve been working separately since the beginning, so to see us come together and have similar experiences from our vaccination events is wonderful,” she said. “Also, it’s great for the youth to have the Prime Minister acknowledge them – it shows that the Prime Minister sees all their hard work.”
The festival atmosphere of the event was difficult to ignore, with music, dancing and sausages on the grill.
Another volunteer said working together like this was a new thing, but thought it was just what was needed to get the last segment of the community to roll up their sleeves for the jab.