Empathy and understanding for those with Covid is admirable but let’s extend it to all communities, argues Auckland councillor Efeso Collins.
It was only a year ago that South Auckland-based journalist Mariner Fagaiava-Muller asked the question in relation to a Covid community case in our local area: “if the family was pālagi, would we be making a song and dance of it?”
He was asking whether New Zealand Europeans would face the same level of scrutiny that Pasifika South Aucklanders faced during 2020’s August community outbreak.
It seemed at the time that New Zealanders thought we had beaten Covid-19 for good, following the lifting of all restrictions in June 2020, so when the latest cases were announced, people were quick to find someone to blame. You may recall that when the community case in Papatoetoe was announced, the discourse on social media and in the news centered largely on the ethnicity of the cluster along with speculation about whether this family’s culture played a factor in their compliance.
Fast forward to this week and it seems Fagaiava-Muller has been proven right, judging by the lack of commentary on what we can learn from the culture or ethnicity of these positive cases based off the types of cafes, bars or nightclubs they have frequented.
Instead, the locations of interest visited by the growing number of positive cases are viewed to be the norm, without there being any need to comment on their race or levels of education.
I applaud this.
If a person visits SkyCity casino and potentially puts 1,200 people at risk or attends the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in Māngere East and unknowingly endangers 300-400 people, there should be no judgment in either scenario.
Unfortunately, we know that wasn’t the case last year. Such was the anger shown towards the Pacific community at the time that Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield felt the need to address the matter directly during their press conferences.
But this isn’t a column aimed at dredging up old hurts felt by my constituents during the last two lockdowns. Rather, I would like to think we have matured somewhat as a nation and that our understanding of the randomness and unpredictability of this dogged virus has also evolved.
As I write this, my phone is lighting up with messages from friends who are seeing that more South Auckland places of interest are appearing on the government’s Covid-19 website. And given we’re expecting news of further positive cases to be announced, I’m sure some will be from South Auckland. Given that many in central Auckland and the North Shore are coming to terms with the news that their neighbours, friends and colleagues are potential carriers of Covid, I’d like to challenge all of us to maintain the same levels of empathy and compassion as this virus weasels its way into other communities.
Delta, as we know from overseas, is incredibly transmittable and also more deadly. And the derision and disdain that was so freely expressed on social media this time last year shows that unchecked attitudes can be as destructive as the virus itself. Each new variant seems to also breed new strains of conspiracy, followed by more virulent and visible attacks online and in the streets. As people gather to protest despite such gatherings being dangerous because of the ease of transmission, I’m mindful of the ongoing difficult texts and phone calls that I still get from people who believe strongly in the anti-vax position.
Many of the people protesting and ringing me aren’t just angry or deluded, but genuinely feel locked out and disenfranchised by a lack of say in what shapes their everyday lives. And while I don’t share their anti-vax views, I know it’s important we think of ways to address their sense of disconnection and distrust. Truth is, with the people who constantly text me I do get peeved off with their relentless and often aggressive claims, but we need to find ways to engage in honest and respectful conversations.
I don’t have the silver bullet solution for this issue but given our only real defence against Covid is mobilising the majority of our population to vaccinate as soon as possible, perhaps we need to have a bit more grace for each other. If we remain a nation that criticises the ‘other’ for their lack of vaccine uptake or for not following certain rules, or even for just contracting the virus, we will not only have failed at living up to the aspiration of being a team of five million, but we will have failed ourselves.
None of us are perfect and none of us are impervious to this virus’ ability to be spread, even if we are vaccinated. So let’s build each other, instead of spreading discord. Let’s aim for unity, instead of allowing division to take root, and let’s pursue kindness, instead of having indifference to the struggles of those different to ourselves.
We’re all connected in our common struggle, hope and earnest desire to get through this valley. It will take patience, forbearance, prayers and compassion. These times will define our character as a nation and we possess the shared strength and vision to get through it.
Fa’anana Efeso Collins is an Auckland councillor representing the Manukau ward.