NZ lockdown – day 14: Pacific groups at risk over social media ‘fake info’

A coronavirus poster before New Zealand's lockdown began last month. For many Pacific Islanders, reliable information on how to avoid or tackle the virus is not yet in their native tongue, making them vulnerable to misinformation. Image: RNZ

By RNZ News

Social media misinformation about Covid-19 is putting Pacific communities in New Zealand at particular risk, government advisers say.

The government announced a $17 million package toward building an awareness campaign in Pacific languages, as well as support for health providers.

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa identified Pacific communities as being at greater risk of Covid-19 than others, citing larger households living in densely populated areas.

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For many of the almost 300,000 Pacific Islanders identified in the 2013 census as living in New Zealand, reliable information on how to avoid or tackle the virus has not yet been translated in their native tongue, making them vulnerable to misinformation.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a former Pacific Community director-general who leads a government Pacific health advisory group for the Covid-19 response, said there was an over-abundance of misinformation that posed a problem for the whole community.

“There’s too much misinformation and not enough of the credible, reliable information for people and this is a particular issue for the Pacific communities.”

Dr Tukuitonga said Pacific people in New Zealand were already feeling threatened by Covid-19, with many in crowded homes and with underlying health issues.

Communities targeted
He said these communities had been targeted by people peddling fraudulent cures for Covid-19.

Tokelauan church minister Rev Tui Sopoaga is already doing his part to help with health messaging for Pacific communities, having moved his Porirua-based sermons online during lockdown.

He livestreams services in both Tokelauan and English, sometimes using the platform to share official government advice.

“Every time I do my evening devotions, I always report what the government is telling us and also the health professionals. And I always remind them of what we need to do in order to keep us safe.”

Dr Colin Tukuitonga … bringing in more Pacific health workers to address the shortfall. Image: AUT

Rev Sopoaga said without physical church gatherings they were short of cash however, and would welcome government support.

A South Auckland GP, Api Talemaitoga, said Pacific health providers also needed support to move more consultations online.

Dr Talemaitoga, who has advised the government’s response team, said providers were also short staffed because the government lockdown meant they had to make individual visits to elderly and at-risk patients.

Advisory group lead Dr Tukuitonga said they were now working on bringing in more Pacific health workers to address the shortfall.

Covid-19 coronavirus cases update for 8 April 2020.
Today’s government Covid-19 statistics in New Zealand. Graphic: RNZ

Infection cases dropping
The number of new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand continues to slowly fall, with 26 confirmed and 24 probable cases in the past 24 hours.

Today’s total of 50 is a drop from yesterday, when 54 new cases were reported, which was down from the 67 new cases reported on Monday.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the total number of cases was now 1210 and another 41 people haD recovered overnight. There had been no further deaths with the total at one.

Dr Bloomfield said a total of 282 people had now recovered.

Twelve people are in hospital, including four who are in intensive care. Two of those people are in a critical condition.

He said there were still 12 significant clusters of infection, with 84 cases in both the Marist College and Matamata clusters, and 81 cases in the Bluff cluster.

For all clusters, Dr Bloomfield said they would widen testing to people without symptoms but who might be at high risk.

He said he would be very surprised if anyone was declined for a test if they had Covid-19-like symptoms.

There were 4098 tests processed yesterday, the highest number so far.

Dr Bloomfield said 17 nurses and seven doctors have Covid-19.

About a quarter of the cases were linked to overseas travel. Twenty support and care staff and three medical students are also currently infected with Covid-19.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP – don’t show up at a medical centre.
  • RNZ’s Covid-19 news feed

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