Merry Christmas my friends.
Christmas is almost upon us. The time of year when families gather from far and wide, when mokopuna who haven't seen their nannies and papas for some time get spoilt rotten.
There's usually a lot of overeating and indulgent behaviour generally, and this year there is also likely to be an unwelcome guest either on the fringe of the festivities or inside the whanau itself - Covid-19.
This is not an attempt to frighten people. It's probably too late for that, the rubber has already hit the road.
This is time to face up to the facts; no more excuses like "I'm still doing my research and making up my mind"; "I don't want anybody pushing me into a decision, I'm young and reasonably fit I can fight it off"; or "why should I have to get vaccinated or lose my job if I'm a teacher or a health worker – it's my choice what I put into my body".
Let's deal with that one first.
Right, it is your choice and if you've decided you won't take the free, protecting vaccine, which has been administered safely to hundreds of millions of people around the world and you've been sacked – that was your choice.
I suspect I'm not alone in not wanting an unvaccinated teacher in charge of my mokopuna, who haven't had the choice of getting the vaccine yet, being infected by you.
Or having a whanaunga who's ill in hospital, and who is immune-compromised, being infected by a health worker who – for whatever reason - believes their personal choices and opinions are worth more than the well being and safety of the vulnerable people they're being paid to look after.
But I notice that 99 per cent of DHB health workers went ahead and got vaccinated and I salute you all for your caring attitude and doing your duty.
With regard to the sizable minority of our people who are declining/refusing to get jabbed, here are a few facts coming out of the latest official figures from the Ministry of Health.
Of the 7484 people infected with this round of Covid-19 - at the time of writing - the greatest number are those unable to be vaccinated at this time: the under 12s. They make up more than 20 per cent of the total. They're mostly our kids.
In terms of the ethnicity of the 7484, the overwhelming majority are us, Maori. We make up 44 per cent of the total; we are 33 per cent of those sick enough to be in hospital.
We have also topped the list of those who have died. Given we make up about 17 per cent of the total population, these are not statistics to be proud of.
Yes, most of the people who've caught the virus so far have been in Auckland, but it is spreading now and creeping towards our hinterlands, where we know many people are unvaccinated, and we know that this is a disease that finds the unvaxxed.
The second ethnicity most affected by Covid are our Pacific cousins who make up 29 per cent of the infected people. Asians make up just 6 per cent, Pakeha 19 per cent.
By contrast, let's take a look at another group of people who have many connections and similarities to Maori in Tairawhiti, the Cook Islands, our ancestors last stop off point on their journey to Aotearoa a millenium ago.
The resident population of the Cook Islands is about 12,000, probably not too dissimilar to the Maori population of Tairawhiti. The Cooks have never had a case of Covid.
Ninety-five per cent of the Cook Islands population aged 12 and over has been double vaxxed for Covid-19 with the same Pfizer vaccine used in New Zealand.
The locals have the same ailments we have – diabetes, heart problems, obesity etc – which make us vulnerable to Covid.
They have achieved this nil Covid score sheet by adopting some very strict measures. Despite being an economy heavily reliant on tourism – 85 per cent of their income – the government locked down the borders when New Zealand went into lockdown last year, opened for a brief period when New Zealand did earlier this year, then locked down again when New Zealand did in August.
The effect has been dramatic. Resorts and other tourist-dependent businesses stand idle. About 1000 migrant workers have left, either gone home to places like Fiji and the Philippines, or to New Zealand to work on dairy farms and other places crying out for labour.
About another 1000 locals have left, mostly to New Zealand to work in meatworks and in the horticulture industry.
With the country probably losing $1 million a day, and with 95 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated - and New Zealand changing from an elimination policy to one of living with Covid - the Cook Islands has decided to open up to people from New Zealand in mid-January, but with conditions.
The visitors will need to be double vaxxed and have a clear Covid test taken within 72 hours of travel. They will also need to take a test on arrival and isolate until the result of that test comes back - hopefully clear too.
And they've taken the bold step of saying once open, the country will stay open.
Even with those precautions, expert disease modellers from New Zealand have urged the Cooks to go further; saying even with that level of vaccination there could be about 2500 infected if Covid breaks through the barriers – which they expect it will – there could be dozens of hospitalisations – overwhelming the health system – and some deaths.
On the other hand, if and when it's possible to vaccinate the 5- to 11-year-olds, and still maintaining good hygiene precautions like hand washing, wearing masks indoors, logging in to allow contact tracing, and maintaining separation, those projected hospitalisations and deaths drop away.
There are anti-vaxxers and vaccination hesitant people in the Cook Islands, but why is it that Cook Islands Maori and residents are vaccinating in such high and heartening numbers and we New Zealand Maori are not?
Since Covid-19 first came to New Zealand last year the Ministry of Health – as at the time of writing – had recorded 10,609 cases.
Thirty-three per cent of them have been Maori. Remember our portion of the population is just 17 per cent. Think about that, and it hasn't hit Tairawhiti yet.
When Covid-19 first came into our lives early last year and we went into the first lockdown, I was at Opoutama with one of my grandsons and his mother.
Like most of us, I didn't know what to expect, but I was fearful. You see, I had read extensively about the great flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which it was estimated infected one-third of the world's population.
Nobody really knows for sure how many people died, but estimates range from 50 to 100 million. To add to that tragedy, the world had just come through a devastating world war; countries and economies were shattered and struggling to recover.
My hunch last year was that we would probably all catch Covid, and many of us would die. I anticipated my own death and drew up a plan in my head for how my family should handle that given the circumstances.
I feared that I might not see my wife and young son, who were sheltering in Rarotonga, again.
But as the lockdown and the year unfolded I believe the New Zealand government has handled the situation extremely well. Vaccines have arrived on the scene, and while many of us will still get ill, and some have and will die, I no longer believe we will all get it.
But I think we do have to plan for its arrival and the possibility of whanau being infected and how we deal with that. What food and other essential supplies and medicines we should get in.
We should have an isolation plan and a list of people to call for help should the main caregivers in the household become incapacitated or worse. There are iwi, hapu and marae groups who have templates for those plans and are standing by to help.
I am still fearful, but not as much as last year, because I know I now have a large measure of protection from the vaccinations that I've had. I am still apprehensive for the young and the vulnerable - those who can't yet get a vaccination or whose underlying illness puts them at risk.
For the unvaxxed, the statistics show you are the most infected and hospitalised. Here's hoping you don't end up taking up a hospital bed that someone who didn't deliberately put themselves in harm's way could do with over the next few weeks and months.
And if like the many reports from around the world of people in ICU gasping for air, you end up croaking that you wish you'd taken the vaccine, it'll be too late then.