(Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders on Sunday to unite in their battle against COVID-19, as the pandemic forced the country to celebrate its national Waitangi Day online.
A growing outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has pushed all commemorations online, prompting Ardern to urge vaccinations.
“We all have a duty to do everything we can to protect our communities with all the tools that science and medicine have given us,” Ardern said in a pre-recorded speech.
“Togetherness is something we have shown throughout the last few years. I know it hasn’t always been easy … But together we have, and we continue to, overcome.”
Health ministry data show 93% of those eligible above the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated and 49% of eligible adults have received a booster shot, but infections keep rising. On Sunday, there were 208 new community cases, following a record https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-reports-record-243-new-covid-cases-2022-02-05 243 the previous day.
Waitangi Day is named for the region on the North Island where representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 indigenous Maori chiefs signed a founding treaty in 1840.
Maori, who account for about 15% of New Zealand’s population, were dispossessed of much of their land during British colonisation. In years past, many would protest on the Waitangi Day for civil and social rights, criticising successive governments for not doing enough.
In December, Ardern’s government set up the Maori Health Authority to ensure better health access to Maori.
“We have an obligation to make sure everyone has access to the healthcare they need, and that you don’t die younger than everyone else in New Zealand because you are Maori,” Ardern said on Sunday.
(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)