“God bless you.”
That is the response of a leader in the Assembly of God, Church of Samoa NZ in Māngere, after abusive messages sent to his church’s Facebook account.
One of the messages circulating on social media referred to the community as “stupid coconuts” and said that the community should be tested “before you kill us all.”
The Pacific community has the highest testing rate in the country to date, with 981 tests per 1,000 people compared to 479 for Pākehā. The church leader, who did not want to be named, said members were disappointed in the attack but did not feel the need to retaliate, adding that “they can say anything, it doesn’t change anything.”
“Our service was conducted before closing, so it’s not like we knew this was going to happen. We only had one unwanted visitor,” he said, referring to the undetected presence of Covid-19 at the event. “We are just moving forward. We are having meetings with MPs and making sure everyone gets tested.”
Jerome Mika works for the South Auckland NGO, The Cause Collective, and currently supports church leaders. He said the church was feeling “quite stressed and overwhelmed” after receiving multiple abusive messages as it grappled with the complexities of tracking the movements of the more than 500 people who attended its Aug. 15 service.
“It is quite a complex situation. But the church is fully cooperating with the Ministry of Health, South Seas Health and The Cause Collective,” Mika said.
Manukau neighborhood councilors, Alf Filipaina and Fa’anana Efeso Collins, have been informed of the attacks on their constituents. Collins said that since many people from the Pacific work in essential services and also in customer service roles, such as bus driving and hospitality, it is not a surprise that they also represent many of the positive cases, as mentioned yesterday by Dr. Ashley. Bloomfield.
“We are definitely playing our part in the fight against Covid and the people of the Pacific also have the highest testing rates,” Collins said. “But unfortunately, the belligerent and tacky comments now surfacing on social media show the underbelly of discrimination in New Zealand. That is why I encourage people to stay away from comment sections in the publications authorizing this appalling behavior. “
Filipaina said that the term “coco” in particular was deeply damaging to him and others within the Pacific community. “I was upset when I saw that. My first reaction was that this guy should move to a state in the United States where the KKK is prominent, because that kind of comment is not welcome here.”
He said the media also had a role to play in how it frames the latest Covid news, given that five of the other church-related locations of interest were not in South Auckland and the ethnicities of its congregations. they were not featured in the news. “The media should focus on spreading key messages like ‘get tested’ and ‘get vaccinated,'” Filipaina said.
“They didn’t have to mention that it was a Samoan church. The media should focus on the fact that it happened in a church without focusing on the ethnicity of those who go there.
“I also saw a news outlet showing an image of the wrong church as having a case. So I don’t know why they keep making those mistakes, as it affects people from those other churches. “
Among the reasons behind this recent increase in cases among the Pacific community, University of Auckland Associate Professor of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga said religious services are the perfect setting for transmission, given the singing prevalence and proximity of attendees, before adding that low vaccination rates was another important reason.
“The appalling vaccination coverage rates that we have is one of the reasons that we are seeing many, many more cases,” he said. “They did a great song and dance about that mass vaccination event a few weeks ago, but I always said that that was not going to work. Yes, there were many, but they were vaccinating low priority groups and we only had 1,300 Pacific vaccinated out of 15,000.”
He also believed that Pacific providers should be tasked with conducting vaccination events. “We have always asked for more specific vaccination options for Maori and Pacific communities. There are some specific options for Maori and Pacific communities, but nowhere [near] enough.”
Meanwhile, the church at the center of this outbreak is simply moving forward and, like all New Zealanders at this time, “was eager to get out of lockdown,” said one of its leaders.
“Hopefully this will end soon and everything can go back to normal.”
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.