All commemoration events at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds have been cancelled and the gates will be closed to the public on February 6, writes political editor Jo Moir
The decision to can all in-person events during Waitangi week next year wasn’t taken lightly, says Waitangi National Trust chair Pita Tipene.
“It’s very difficult for everyone around the country,’’ Tipene told Newsroom.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing – but above all things we’ve got to keep the health and safety of our people paramount to everything else,’’ he said.
The Trust board members, which include Government and Opposition MP representatives, met last month but decided it was too premature to make a decision.
Now that the traffic light system has been announced in its entirety, including which settings each region will go into, Tipene said the board met again on Tuesday to make a final decision.
Northland will enter the traffic light system on Friday at red, due to its low vaccination rate and the number of people known to travel there during the summer holidays.
Northland’s fully vaccinated general rate is 76 percent, and for Māori it drops back to 63 percent.
Tipene said staff from Northland District Health Board attended the meeting on Tuesday and presented best case and worst case modelling for Covid.
“We had various options put to us and we certainly didn’t want to have mass gatherings where people ended up being shoulder-to-shoulder but didn’t want to be.’’
Tipene said the worst case scenario would be Waitangi resulting in a super spreader event.
“We came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what the scale was, whether it was 10,000 people or 200 people, the risk was still the same.’’
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the decision to not go ahead with events indicated a “degree of realism amongst iwi leaders about the scale of the challenge they have ahead of them to get those vaccination rates up”.
“There is more misinformation up there by far – the highest concentrations in the country in fact if I could be so bold as to make that claim. That does mean we have a real challenge there,” Hipkins told Newsroom.
Tipene personally spoke to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week about the likelihood of events going ahead.
Ardern has attended Waitangi week in the Far North every year as Prime Minister and has committed to doing so as long as she is able and invited.
“She said, ‘Look, the decision is with the Waitangi National Trust and whatever decision you make we will abide by’,’’ Tipene told Newsroom.
Ardern’s office has been contacted for comment.
Plans are being made to host some virtual events at Waitangi over the course of the first week of February.
Minister of Māori/Crown Relations, Kelvin Davis, said the Government supports and understands the decision made by the Trust.
“I expect Members of Parliament, Ministers and the Prime Minister will still play a key role in virtual elements on the day.
“While it’s unfortunate that there will be no in-person events at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds next year – there will be other parts of the country who will be celebrating our National Day in person, and the virtual Waitangi Day experience will still offer people across Aotearoa a sense of Waitangi Day on the Treaty Grounds,” Davis said.