I write this column as a tribute to the thousands of essential workers who break their bubble to be on frontline services including Covid testing and Covid vaccination centres across Aotearoa.
I focus solely on the Whānau Ora teams up and down the country and write from their experience on the frontline.
The beauty of lockdowns - if there is anything to be chuffed about them - is the removal of layers of bureaucrats' compliance and paper-shuffling.
Regretfully, the massive resources these bureaucrats are endowed with are never transferred to a Whānau Ora movement that can deploy them in a timely, managed and measured way.
For most essential workers, the day starts at 6am because many have to travel to and from the site where they are employed.
Health and safety protocols become essential in securing the mana of each individual, leaving their whānau to work at the frontline and all must be vaccinated. Add a rolling series of Covid testing over a five-day period which is required to give confidence to the workforce and their whānau.
Vaccination and testing centres have had Covid-positive clients go through their sites but the system cannot stop or close down because it is imperative that every Kiwi who wants a vaccination or test is delivered one.
The whole of the health system works on allied staff, noting that nurses are its backbone.
In Māori terms, they are called the pou tokomanawa. They are the columns, or central support beam, that holds up the entire house, such is their mana. They provide shelter for every one of the testing and vaccine centres throughout Aotearoa.
This is not to devalue the role of GPs but to insist on the new role and value of our nursing staff up and down the country. They have been disrespected and must now be honoured with better salaries and greater devolved authority to make major decisions on the front line in regard to scripting and the like.
The health system reflected through the delivery of testing and Covid vaccinations shows the mana and authority of our nurses and our allied kaimahi.
We have a Whānau Ora clause in our contracts that says you can be deployed on any role or function required by your leadership to defend and or advance our community/hapori. On that basis, hundreds of back-office staff have been redeployed to the frontline to provide services such as: serving water and wrapped snacks for those waiting in the queues for over two hours. Quickly learning the IT system deployed to on-board people into the system and understand the NHI number, which as all Kiwis know is now very important. Runners to run vaccinations from the cold chain, assisting in the cold store drawing up Covid vaccinations from vials of Covid vaccination serum, which can produce up to six vaccination needles.
In lockdown, given that all shops are closed – bar essential services – we ensure lunches are made for all staff because, as they say, an army marches on its stomach.
Our Māori wardens oversee traffic control and direct the flow through on testing and vaccine sites.
We have multiple registration staff that continue to load large amounts of data so we can vax and test individual staff at no less than two minutes per person. More staff ensure that rubbish and waste are separated and disposed of.
So one day in our Whānau Ora world, you can be a manager or a team leader and the next day you are a cook, a cleaner, a runner or working on traffic management. The 12-hour day ends at 6pm.
We honour and respect all those working on the frontline bringing safety and security to their fellow Kiwis.
Our mantra is, if service is below you, leadership is beyond you. This is encapsulated in a Māori saying. Kei te amoranga ki mua, ke te hapai, kei muri.
John Tamihere is a former Labour Cabinet Minister and CEO of West Auckland Urban Māori Authority Whānau Waipareira. Waipareira manages Two Super Vaccination Centres – vaccinating more than 2000 people per day and a drive-through Covid testing station that nasal swabs around 750 whānau a day.