Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 21 per cent of Kiwis surveyed say they’ve experienced discrimination related to the virus, with higher rates among Chinese and Māori communities, according to new research by the Human Rights Commission.
Researchers surveyed nearly 2000 people in July, finding that 40 per cent of Chinese, 30 per cent of Māori and 26 per cent of Pacific respondents said they experienced discrimination that they felt was specifically related to Covid-19. Some reported feeling unsafe because of it.
Non-Chinese Asian respondents also reported facing discrimination at similar levels than people of Chinese descent.
Thirty-nine per cent of all respondents reported they experienced discrimination of any kind since the start of the pandemic.
The report, completed by Nielsen, found respondents most often experienced discrimination online in the form of negative comments or abuse. People also said they were stared at in public, were excessively avoided beyond social distancing measures, and received negative comments or abuse in person.
“The pandemic feeds fear, which in turn is manifesting itself in racism and discrimination. We must not forget that the virus is the problem and not people, especially as we find ourselves in Covid lockdown again,” Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said.
“An unfortunate by-product of Covid-19 is that certain ethnic groups are often blamed and subsequently vilified for their perceived ‘role’ in an outbreak.
“Whether it was Pacific people in the resurgence last year or New Zealanders returning home from overseas, there is a racialising of this disease that is discriminatory.”
The report also noted regional iwi checkpoints prompted negative public reactions.
Speaking on Breakfast, Foon said tangata whenua were only trying to protect themselves.
"I’m not surprised … It is a sad indictment on our community," he said of the research findings.
"We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."
Love, respect and education are key to tackling racism, Foon said.
When faced with discrimination related to the pandemic, the most common response reported by 42 per cent of respondents was to ignore it and do nothing at the time.
Some respondents said they took specific actions during Covid-19 because they were concerned they would be discriminated against. These included deliberately keeping a distance from others in public, choosing to stay at home or reducing their social activities.
Forty-six per cent of respondents said the discrimination negatively impacted their mental wellbeing, and 40 per cent reported that it had a negative impact on their sense of belonging in New Zealand.
“No one should have to change their behaviour to avoid risking discrimination, made to feel they don’t belong, worry about their public safety, or experience negative mental wellbeing because of discrimination or racism,” Foon said.
The Human Rights Commission said the research may not have captured the full extent of racial discrimination against Pacific communities after the Auckland Covid-19 resurgence in August, as data was collected before the cluster occurred.