‘Covid-19 knows no ethnicity, so don’t stigmatise,’ says Komiti Pasefika

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Pop-up covid checks
Pacific union members encourage people in the communities to get tested for covid-19 if they are showing symptoms. Image: RNZ

By Sela Jane Hopgood, RNZ Pacific journalist

A call has been made to members of the Pacific community in New Zealand to check on loved ones during the current Auckland lockdown and to remember there is no stigma or shame in getting tested for covid-19.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, co-head of the School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, said it was important in these extraordinary times to check in on family, friends, colleagues and students.

“Through my work around suicide prevention, it has always been a key message to check in on each other, and that was born from siblings checking in on each other once they have lost a loved one to suicide,” Dr Tiatia-Seath said.

Dr Tiatia-Seath, a specialist in mental health and well-being among Pacific people, said it made complete sense to continue such connection in the covid-19 era.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in our own bubbles that we seem to not realise that other people may not be doing so well, and it is so hard to detect that when you’re not physically near or seeing people on the daily,” she said.

The Auckland family at the centre of the current covid-19 cluster received a lot of negative comments on social media, and Dr Tiatia-Seath said the stigmatisation of that response had not helped with stress levels in the Pacific community.

“Covid-19 knows no ethnicity, so it was extremely unhelpful to point out the ethnicity of the family. The virus is the problem here,” she said.

Negative social media
The Auckland family at the centre of the current covid-19 cluster received a lot of negative comments on social media, and Dr Tiatia-Seath said the stigmatisation of that response had not helped with stress levels in the Pacific community.

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath
Auckland University Pacific studies lecturer Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath … “Sometimes we get so caught up in our own bubbles that we seem to not realise that other people may not be doing so well.” Image: RNZ/Auckland University

“Covid-19 knows no ethnicity, so it was extremely unhelpful to point out the ethnicity of the family. The virus is the problem here,” she said.

Dr Tiatia-Seath pointed out that when people are disconnected from others, it could be hard to pick up signs of distress without being physically present.

“I think when you notice people close down their social media accounts, people that were usually active or engaging online have suddenly gone quiet, I would check up on that person.

“Ensuring families in need have food, checking that our elderly are okay and connected and that our young people are staying engaged after being disconnected from their schools. These are the kind of people we need to look out for,” she said.

The University of Auckland academic said parents needed a lot of support especially if they were having to also be educators for their children.

“We need to be vigilant about our own wellbeing as well as other people’s. Part of that is watching for digital fatigue.

Long Zoom calls
“Zoom video calls should not be so long, and be mindful and respectful of the spaces people are in. It can sometimes be intrusive for some, as you are inviting people into your home.”

She said not spending a lot of time on social media could also be beneficial for wellbeing.

“There’s no stigma or shame in being tested for covid-19”

Pacific union members also encouraged people in the communities to get tested for covid-19 if they were showing symptoms.

Komiti Pasefika, the Council of Trade Unions Pacific Island worker representative group, have learnt through their engagement with Pacific workers that there was fear in regards to taking a test.

“A negative test provides the assurance that you and your family are safe. Where there is a positive result then it is about following the correct procedures to make sure our families are safe and well,” co-convenor Brian Palalagi said.

“We encourage our Pacific families that if they are not well, go and get tested.

Time for GP
“Take the time to go to your GP or Community Based Assessment Centres (CBAC) to get tested.

Palalagi said if people are were concerned about what this means for their work, talk to their union organiser or union delegate in the workplace.

“Our view is that you should be accommodated with full pay to be able to make your contribution to the team of 5 million who are wanting to stamp this virus out of our communities.

He agreed with Tiatia-Seath that people were the solution to the coronavirus.

“We know that covid-19 is a tricky virus, which doesn’t discriminate who it infects. The virus doesn’t discriminate, and neither should we,” Palalagi said.

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

  • All RNZ coverage of covid-19
  • 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.
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