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'Unprecedented times': Events at Waitangi 2022 cancelled over Covid concerns

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Dec 2021, 1:34pm
Waitangi Day dawn ceremony this year on February 6. (Photo / Michael Cunningham)
Waitangi Day dawn ceremony this year on February 6. (Photo / Michael Cunningham)

'Unprecedented times': Events at Waitangi 2022 cancelled over Covid concerns

Author
Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Dec 2021, 1:34pm

Events at Waitangi 2022 have been cancelled in an "unprecedented" move as the trust responsible grows increasingly concerned about the risk of Covid-19.

Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene said it was a decision not taken lightly.

"The first week in February is when the attention of the nation is focused on Waitangi and its significance in our national character, the week when we host tens of thousands of manuhiri from all over Aotearoa New Zealand.

"However, we are in unprecedented times and the health of our people and of our visitors is our primary concern."

The Waitangi National Trust has decided there will be no in-person events at Waitangi Treaty Grounds during Waitangi Week 2022.

The trust said under the Covid-19 Protection Framework it would be "practically impossible" to safely go ahead with the usual events of Waitangi commemorations, which attract 30,000 to 40,000 people annually.

Tipene said they had been in discussions with the Government, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis and health experts, and decided the risk was simply too high.

Te Tai Tokerau has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, with 76 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated, compared to national rate of 86 per cent. For Māori just 63 per cent are fully vaccinated.

"The health and safety of visitors, staff and the local community is of paramount importance to the trust so cancelling the event is the only responsible decision under the circumstances," Tipene said.

"I know many will be disappointed but it is the right call for the times we are in and we will now look for creative ways in which to commemorate the promise of Waitangi.

"All going well, Waitangi Week will be back bigger and better than ever in 2023."

Tipene said he was not aware of events at Waitangi being cancelled before, although it could have occurred during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

"Given the importance of the discussions that take place and as part of the character of the country, especially at a time like this, it is hugely disappointing."

While Waitangi, as the place where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was conceived and first signed, has long been the focus of national commemorations, events take place all across the motu each year.

Tipene said they would support events.

"In other years former prime ministers have even gone elsewhere. While people like to be in Waitangi for the spirit, the mana and the mauri, Waitangi commemorations take place in many areas and we encourage those to continue where they feel they are safe to."

Waitangi Treaty Grounds will be working with radio, TV and online broadcasters to deliver a virtual Waitangi Day experience on February 6.