By Sri Krishnamurthi, contributing editor of the Pacific Media Watch
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced extending the New Zealand lockdown to past ANZAC weekend, she mentioned “co-morbidities” among parts of the population – particularly Māori and Pasifika.
She was not wrong, concern has come from the Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, and Niuean communities over the health of the elderly and the immuno-comprised to Covid-19 as a representation of Pasifika from a group of community leaders and doctors said so.
While they have all said their communities have been coping well, there are concerns for the elderly and infirmed.
“Very concerned with winter approaching. In a way the lockdown may have been good for them allowing their families who would normally be at work or away to be present,” said Dr Siro Fuatai of the Samoan community.
“They are getting good social care but are missing out on some of their medical care due to the absence of face-to-face consultations with doctors.
“However, we are trying to get families to utilise our video consulting which may be good for these folk.
“Also, families are hesitant to bring them in when needed but we have informed people that as long as they let us know there are steps in place to review their elderly folk it is going to be okay,” Dr Fuatai added.
Staying in their bubble
Tongan community leader Melino Maka said people understood the meaning of staying in their bubble.
“Some of them tell me they have found a cure from social media. I tell them, please don’t tell me anything about what you have picked up from social media – go to the official sources,” he said
He has a radio show on Tongan Dateline every day through the week and he warned not to follow inaccurate “fake news” on social media that speaks of “cures”.
His advice was for the Tongan community to go to official sources like covid19.govt.nz
He said education was equally important for the people because they were so prone to social media.
As Auckland councillor for Manukau Efeso Collins said: “What we’ll probably face soon is those people who have been made redundant.
“There has been a number of community groups where people can get food parcels.
Real impact to show soon
“That has been really helpful, but the real impact will start to show over the next few weeks,” he predicted.
“When you don’t have enough income coming in you aren’t able to store and for many of our communities, they couldn’t panic buy.
“People have become a lot more trusting since there is a lot more testing stations in South Auckland.
“We are very aware of our older communities because they are the ones with pre-existing conditions, and we want to make sure they are safe,” he said.
“We’re trying to encourage them to stay in their bubble, and that is still difficult because we still have a number of grandparents who think it is okay to go out and visit the kids.”
“Unfortunately, my mother was standing outside our door the other day wanting to visit her granddaughter because we’ve just had a baby about six weeks ago.
“So we had to say, ‘oh, sorry mum just for everyone’s safety let’s just follow the rules’,” he said.
Danger of moving levels
He said part of the danger of moving out of level 4 was that “our parents were now starting to get the message home – everyone has to stay in their bubble”.
As Dr Fuatai said: “Most of the Samoan community have been very respectful of the regulations and adhering to the rules, maybe too much as some didn’t realise it was okay to do stuff for the elderly.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga of the Fijian community.
“Everyone understands you need to stay in your bubble,” he said.
“Although, a very foreign concept to Fijians – to not be able congregate, visit each other for a cuppa, go to church, attend funerals and share a bowl of kava, people have found ways to interact online, by phone and social media.
“Like everyone else, the Fijian community is looking forward to the reduction of levels and restrictions when it happens.”
He was worried about old people and people with co-morbidities being at high risk.
Change to media messaging
“This is something we had to change with our media messaging,” said Dr Talemaitoga.
“We have heard of Pacific people arriving at Middlemore Emergency Department in an extreme state or children being quite unwell because parents thought that taking them ‘outside their bubble’ may cause them to be infected with coronavirus.
“We needed to say repeatedly with our messages to call doctor or Healthline for advice.”
And Dr Colin Tukuitonga of the Niuean community has been providing information to the Niuean community since Day One.
“Think they have a good understanding of it all. Many are following the lockdown rules,” he said.
“They are mostly worried about the old people being at high risk.”
However, the bigger problem was domestic violence due to loss of a jobs.
Some groups stressed
“Certain groups get stressed for financial reasons, they have been out of employment for a long time and they’ve suddenly got a job and all of a sudden they can suddenly pay their bills…they then just as suddenly find themselves out of a job and they need financial support,” Melino Maka said of the Tongan community.
And as Efeso Collins said of the Samoan community: “We definitely know from a lot of our families who are communicating with us there has been a lot of pressure in the house.
“And so we seeing an increase in reporting both in families and people connecting with others in Church and referrals of people to social agencies,” he said.
“Its really okay for mostly the men in our families to say it’s okay we are going to get through this.
“Once people have been made redundant or on 80 percent of income that is going to put real stress on families. Many of the arguments that are happening are finance related,” he said.
“We need people to see if our brothers are doing okay and friends to check if they are okay,” Collins added.
Melino Maka was waiting for some data as anecdotally he had been told there had been an increase.
No hard data
“There has been no hard data to support this and we won’t know until the lockdowns are lifted,” he said.
And Dr Talemaitoga said the Counties Manukau police have reported an increase in violence.
“Yes, Counties Manukau Police have seen a slight increase in domestic violence. Women’s Refuge has noticed an increase in demand for housing,” he said.
“Paediatricians at the hospitals explain they are concerned as they have lost the ‘safety net’ of structures/workers that often refer in children suspected of exposure to violence.
“Although, no current increase in violence seen, no doctors, plunket nurses, school health nurses, child welfare nurses and so on who normally can see this with their interactions and refer people in,” he said.
Like so many communities in New Zealand, the Pasifika community is doing it tough.