Covid forces Polyfest audiences online

The world's biggest Pacific dance festival is getting ready to take the stage in Auckland next week - but for the first time the show will go on without any crowds.

Because of Omicron the Polyfest will be a shadow of its former self. The number of groups has dropped from around 200 pre-covid to just 68.

Sonny Haiosi has been attending for 18 years, watching his four daughters take the stage.

"It wouldn't be the same if you go there and there is not 100-thousand people there, I know that much. When you go to polyfest and you can't move around and that's from the time when you get to the gate which is pretty much feeding into Polyfest, that is Polyfest," Sonny Haiosi said.

He is in two minds about the event going ahead, "we've got nephews and nieces in other schools and they want to go to the Polyfest, and I have other family members that don't want a bar of it".

He contracted Covid-19 in February and six of his family were also positive. Because of that he has not been able to support his daughter who is taking part this year as much as he would have previously.

Covid-19 really knocked him about. "We are just trying to get ourselves back to normal...we probably needed about 20 days to recover from it...I am not a sickly person, I don't get sick often but I was sick alright," he said.

Pre Covid-19, the festival attracted crowds of around 90-thousand but this year that number will be zero, which is a first in its 47-year history.

The event is going ahead, a decision made in part to acknowledge how tough Auckland students' have been doing it, said Polyfest Director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu.

"They just needed this, they needed a safe place to celebrate their culture, to be able to put their identity out there and to have that teamwork again, even though they weren't together. I know some schools were practicing via zoom, there was still a sense of belonging to something," Mauu said.

Her team has been "fierce" in its approach to Covid-19 she said.

At the moment all teachers must be fully vaccinated but school students, vaccinated or not, can participate.

South Auckland-based GP, Dr Api Talemaitoga, says that is "risky".

"For example, some who is asymptomatic but has got the Omicron variant which we know is very infectious, it just puts them at risk of catching it.

I hope that the others wear masks, they observe social distancing... If you are unwell stay at home, the competition can go on without you, you will recover and you are not in a position to likely infect other people who are there," he said.

Papatoetoe High School Principal Vaughan Couillault is comfortable with the measures in place.

"From an audience perspective it is a digital only event this year so all of the big stands, the big event with big stands with lots of people milling around that isn't happening.

"There is a vastly reduced number of stages, groups need to bus in and bus back out so they are not coming in contact with any other groups," Couillault said.