East Coast iwi Ngāti Porou are urging holiday makers to reconsider travelling to Tairāwhiti over the summer period.
Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chair Selwyn Parata, in a letter sent out last night, says there is a real threat of Covid-19 coming into the region, which would overwhelm their underfunded health services.
"Our region's health services struggle to service our people as it is now, without the very real threat of Covid-19. It is not an exaggeration to say that health services will be overwhelmed when Covid-19 arrives in our region," Parata said.
"Ngāti Porou people will be at the worst end of that struggle; some of us will become seriously ill and some of us may die," he said.
In Tairāwhiti 74 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated.
Parata understands many people will travel to Tairāwhiti for Christmas and New Year to reconnect with whānau and friends.
"Unfortunately, the hospitality and beauty of home during the holiday period masks a poor reality for our hau kaenga year-round," Parata said.
"The reality is that our region, and our people, have some of the worst health, wellbeing, and social statistics in Aotearoa. We also have one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates across all of Aotearoa's DHBs.
"There are many people working long hours, doing the best they can, to turn-around those statistics, but it will take time to reverse a situation caused by deep-seated and long standing inequities," he said.
Parata is urging those who do come to be fully vaccinated and return a negative Covid-19 test result before they travel to the region.
"I am asking you to think carefully about your plans for the holiday period. If you want to come home to Ngāti Porou, please consider the health and wellbeing of your whānau back here.
"Please consider how you would feel if you brought Covid-19 on holiday with you. Please remember that our region's services will struggle to look after you and your whānau if you become unwell.
"Think about limiting your movements for a short time when you arrive in Te Tairāwhiti. We will all be safer if you are able to do these things, and we would love to see you home, safely."
He said if you are unable to do these things, for whatever reason, please be less adventurous and consider staying where you are for the time being.
"We will gladly welcome you home again when the time is safe for all of us."
Access to the East Cape lighthouse will also be closed off to the public for the same reasons.