March 2021 is a month of astonishing milestones in our ongoing efforts to eliminate Covid-19. Many of us have been reflecting on events of one year ago. Hawke's Bay has its own share of memories and markers from March 2020.
On February 28, 2020 the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported to NZ health authorities: a traveller recently returned from Iran.
On March 11 the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic. By March 20, 2020 the first case in Hawke's Bay was reported.
On that day our tally of confirmed cases was 39 people – it had grown quickly since the first diagnosis. On March 21 Jacinda Ardern used a nationally televised address to announce a new system of alert levels for the country. We went to alert level 2.
To everyone who has lost a loved one in the past year, or suffered the effects of Covid-19 themselves, I acknowledge the grief, suffering and heartbreak you have experienced.
While March 2021 is a time to throw back and reflect on events over the past year, it is also an opportunity to look forward. We are already marking new milestones in the next battle – the push to vaccinate as many of our population as possible in order to achieve high levels of immunity.
This week Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins made a striking announcement about our vaccination programme.
More than half of New Zealand's estimated 12,000 border workforce have now received their first vaccinations.
As of Wednesday this week, 9431 people had received their first doses. More than 70 per cent of those, or 6688 people, are in the Auckland region. I am advised that about 150 people, and climbing, have been vaccinated in Hawke's Bay.
I take my hat off to Hawke's Bay nurse Linda St George who got the first vaccination in this region. It is the vaccinators like nurses who need protection first, as they embark on the programme to vaccinate border workers. After that, the border workers' families will be vaccinated, and our frontline health workers, and vulnerable or immune-compromised people, before a wider rollout.
They are receiving the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. It has Medsafe approval in New Zealand and has been held to the same high standard of vaccine safety as any other vaccine.
Our third major shipment of the Pfizer vaccine has now landed on our shores, courtesy of vital airfreight lanes we have kept open with Government support.
That shipment of 65,500 doses arrived at Auckland International Airport, bringing the country's total number of Covid-19 vaccines to date to more than 200,000. It means that, from next week, we can get into the next phase of vaccinating about 50,000 family and household contacts of the border workforces in our main centres.
Our border workforce is wider and more varied than you might think – and it includes the workers in our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities.
Those who are most at risk of Covid-19, the cleaners, nurses who carry out health checks in MIQ, security staff, customs and border officials, hotel workers, airline staff, port authorities and vaccinators will be protected from this virus.
The next group of people, frontline health workers number about 57,000 people. They deal directly with patients who may have Covid-19 and can be potentially exposed while providing care. Offering this group the opportunity to be vaccinated will also help protect against the spread to other at-risk communities.
Finally, on vaccines: it does take an enormous amount of work by a lot of people to roll out an immunisation programme of this size. It's early days yet, but we have made a very strong start. Thank you to everyone who's agreed to be vaccinated. You are protecting us as well as yourselves.
Finally, on the subject of big numbers – keep scanning those QR codes. More than 2.7 million people have downloaded the Covid Tracer app, and on average more than 1.4 million scans happen every day.
It is critical to keep track of where you've been. Please continue to scan QR codes wherever you go and turn on Bluetooth tracing too.
• Stuart Nash is MP for Napier