Meng Foon: No time for racial discrimination during Auckland lockdown

Meng Foon: No time for racial discrimination during Auckland lockdown

August 13, 2020

Kia kaha Tāmaki Makaurau 

The people of Tāmaki Makaurau must come together to support the South Auckland family, and others, who have tested positive for COVID-19. I commend the family for taking the initiative to get tested despite the perception that community transmission had been eliminated. 

Our thoughts and wishes should be with this family, and on our determination to nip any community transmission in the bud.    

By getting tested the family has enabled the COVID systems to be activated including contact tracing, 15 testing centres ramping up across the city, and the move to level 3 to minimise the risk of spread.  

I’m grateful for these systems and the millions of New Zealanders who responded speedily to the need to take action against COVID. There is no blame or shame in having COVID-19.  

We learnt through Level 4 that government can work meaningfully with tangata whenua and Pacific communities – like when government agencies supported iwi checkpoints.    

Pacific health leader Dr Monique Faleafa says, “Due to the fast actions of Pasifika health leaders and organisations such as South Seas, The Fono, Le Va and Pasifika Futures working together with government and health, Pacific people had the highest rates of testing by ethnicity last time round, and the lowest rates of COVID-19. They are the best placed to do it again and stop the spread.” 

It’s not a time for racial profiling  

In the nationwide lockdown there was finger pointing which had racial and xenophobic undertone. Chinese and Asian communities told us they been targeted and harassed by members of the public. Media reporting featured images of Asian people that had no direct relation to the actual stories.  

I encourage Aucklanders to echo the thinking behind the recent Racism is No Joke campaign against racism toward Chinese people during the pandemic. Let’s avoid negative thinking about place and race and remind the family that they are supported and that we appreciate them for going into  isolation, for the greater good.   

“Viruses don’t discriminate, and neither should we. Let’s not make this a pandemic of racism too. Be thoughtful with our social media comments, there’s no ‘us and them’ to stop the spread of COVID, we’re all in this together.” 

Please, be kind and give nothing to racism.  

The critical role of media  

Media have an important role reporting accurate information for the public, and they must acknowledge their influence in shaping public opinion including the potential for ethnic groups or suburbs to be vilified or targeted.  

I am asking media to continue to focus on the facts which are essential to public safety. Likewise, the public should focus on public health. We must all avoid potentially stigmatising ethnic groups, suburbs or people who get tested or contract the virus.

These cases of COVID-19 are no excuse to denigrate South Auckland or any ethnic group. To avoid becoming another Melbourne or New York, Aucklanders must work as one to eliminate the virus. We need to fight the virus and not blame or attack others as the virus just wants opportunities to spread.   

During the Lockdown earlier this year, a psychosocial response for Pacific people and youth experiencing distress and anxiety because of the pandemic was also needed. Since stigma and discrimination can lead to further anxiety and distress, Pacific health organisations like Vaka Tautua and Mapu Maia were prepared. They worked in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation and key Pacific leaders, to support Pacific whānau and aiga to deal with and recover from the often unseen impacts of COVID-19. These leaders are now reporting that many Pacific people are concerned about further stigma and discrimination against their communities due to media stories this week.

As part of our public engagement and awareness raising activities, I encourage the media to use their influence to promote harmonious relationships between the many groups that call New Zealand home.   

Meng Foon
Race Relations Commissioner