South Auckland councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins says talk of a tough crackdown on those who don’t comply with Covid rules will only be counterproductive, particularly when so much has already been asked of his region in response to the pandemic.
Following reports that a recent community Covid-19 case went to the gym directly after his test, there have been suggestions that tougher penalties for those not following the rules should be implemented.
But Manukau ward councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins said the latest outbreak was also a failure on the part of officials in overestimating how well informed people are about the need to self-isolate.
“We need the messengers to be looked at, rather than just asking public figures to spread the message. We need people on the ground in Papatoetoe for example who can speak Cantonese, Punjabi, Hindi, Samoan and Tongan.”
Collins pointed to low engagement during the census, the region’s gang issues and lower immunisation rates as examples of how disconnected some are in South Auckland. Collins is also chair of the social service Ōtara Health, which is about to employ social workers tasked with helping remedy the suburb’s gang-related violence. He would like to see the Ministry of Health take a similar approach when it comes to the immunisation rollout.
“We’ve started an initiative through Ōtara Health where we’re employing two youth workers who will engage with youth at risk of joining gangs. If the ministry was investing more in social workers and community navigators, you’d get the reach quicker and more efficiently when it comes to a crisis like this, rather than just holding a Zoom meeting for 500 community leaders,” he said.
Given a high number of the MIQ hotels are in South Auckland, along with the bulk of the border workforce, further outbreaks in the region were inevitable.
“We might be a team of five million, but we’re relying on about 400,000 South Aucklanders who are carrying the majority of the load,” said Collins. “And while the rest of the country might be hating on us, Auckland as a whole provides about 40 per cent of GDP, so without us, they’re in trouble.”
Collins is also concerned by the switch in rhetoric from kindness to compliance.
“I can see we’re slowly moving into the post-kindness phase, where instead of being a team of five million, we are hearing that people just need to be compliant. But the danger I see is that if we are forcing people to be compliant, then what does that look like when the vaccine rollout happens and half the community refuse, because it’s being forced on them. So we’ve got to be careful how we communicate things,” he said.
“And let’s not forget this is against the backdrop where you have a hospital that was dripping with poo up until recently, and a health system that’s already struggling under the demand for its services, so you can start to see why some will be reticent when asked to comply with further restrictions.”
Collins came under attack last night for backing calls for residents of South Auckland to be prioritised in the vaccine roll-out.
“I’ve received a number of messages today with people saying the church should excommunicate me and calling me to repent for supporting a vaccine roll-out in (south) Auckland,” he wrote on Twitter. “These are tough discussions to navigate so open and honest conversations are needed.”