An Auckland Councillor says the Ministry of Health shouldn’t have singled out the Pacific Island community as the latest Covid-19 outbreak grows.
On Tuesday, the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said more than 50 per cent of the Covid-19 cases in the latest cluster are Pasifika people.
He also identified the Samoan Assembly Of God Church as one of the largest of the six sub-clusters in the outbreak, with 58 cases connected to it after it had met before the lockdown.
Fa'anana Efeso Collins, a member of the Labour Party, told Breakfast it was “unnecessary to name the fact that they were Samoan, that particular church”.
“I think that’s a misstep. I know the Ministry of Health has a lot going on, but I think it’s a misstep to name them as Samoan. Because what it’s done, it’s opened the floodgates to what’s been on social media,” he said.
The social media reaction from that was “quite detestable” and “obnoxious”, Collins said.
He said people needed to remember to be compassionate, and not to waste too much time on social media arguing over people’s ethnicities.
“Let’s do better as a nation.”
He criticised the Government for failing to include Pasifika in the planning and design stages of the response to the Delta variant of Covid-19 until it was too late.
Instead, bureaucrats were making decisions from their “Wellington tower”, far away from the community they were trying to reach, he said.
“The failure from the beginning by the Ministry of Health is that our people haven’t been at the planning and design stages, and as a result of that, we’re being clipped on at the end when we’ve reached emergency status rather than have us right at the beginning.”
Collins said this meant the messaging from the Ministry of Health about topics like the vaccine rollout wasn’t reaching many Pasifika.
He encouraged the Government to make use of community leaders like church ministers, who had great connections, and grassroots organisations like The Fono and South Seas Healcare.
Collins said the Government should also be making use of Pacific media networks.
In July, Collins criticised the Government’s “pretty poor” communicatio n, initially, to Māori and Pacific communities as a mass vaccination event got underway in Manukau.
Pakilau Manase Lua, the Chairman of the Pacific Response Coordination Team of the Pacific Leadership Forum, said he’d been trying since last year to partner with the Government to respond to the pandemic. But, he told Breakfast he hadn’t had much success.
He said this was “absolutely” frustrating, given the “community has the solutions” to reach into their own people.
He said when Government agencies listened and partnered with the community, “things happen”.
“We were saying this [to the Government] in April last year during the first lockdown: Come with us, help our ministers be essential workers, we requested that they be seen as essential workers,” Lua said.
“They have a pastoral care duty for our communities, yet the Government didn’t put them in as essential workers. They could have been part of the messaging for getting the testing done.”
Lua said churches in South Auckland were “strategically located” throughout the community, and that they should be used for Covid-19 testing and vaccination.
But, he said those in the “Wellington tower” were “not listening”.
Minister says ‘get in touch with me directly’
Associate Health Minister (Māori Health) Peeni Henare, appearing on Breakfast after Collins and Lua, responded to the criticism.
Henare said the Government had an “ongoing commitment” to working with all communities.
“I encourage those leaders, and other community leaders, to be part of this conversation.
"I’m no less on nine to 12 Zooms a day meeting with community leaders to discuss these matters ... it’s unfortunate these people feel that way, and if they like they can get in touch with me directly,” he said.
When Breakfast host Melissa Stokes pointed out Lua had tried to reach out multiple times to the Government in the past year, Henare encouraged him to reach out to his office directly.
He said the Alert Level 4 lockdown had forced the community to react to the outbreak.
“We apologise if there are missing links.”