Anger and misinformation about covid-19 in NZ a dangerous tumour

Anti-lockdown protest outside TVNZ
Police at an anti-lockdown protest outside Television New Zealand headquarters in Auckland on the first day of the latest alert level 4 lockdown this week. Image: Katie Doyle/RNZ

FIRST PERSON: By Ben Strang, RNZ News reporter

RNZ reporter Ben Strang was on the streets before the latest lockdown when he was attacked, and writes that it feels like there is more animosity towards the government and media this time around.

Despite living largely free of restrictions in New Zealand compared to almost every other nation for the best part of this covid pandemic, it is apparent that some people have no intention of living under level four restrictions.

Hours into the first day of lockdown, Billy Te Kahika, Vinny Eastwood, and their loyal legion of conspiracy theorists launched a number of protests against the measures set out by the government.

Te Kahika and Eastwood pitched up with about 80 others outside Television New Zealand’s headquarters in Auckland.

Some of their views may seem idiotic, but neither of them is an idiot.

The decision to protest outside TVNZ served many purposes: It’s a central Auckland location; it was guaranteed to get them a level of media attention; and they could try to make a point to the media who, apparently, ignore their salient points about the truth of covid-19, vaccines, Bill Gates, the moon landings, and whatever else.

Te Kahika and Eastwood were arrested and are now going through the court process.

It feels like part of a rising level of resentment over government action on combating the pandemic. Patience can wear thin, it might be hard to see an end point and we are left wondering when we will return to “normal”.

Trusty black face mask
“On Tuesday night, five hours before the restrictions were about to snap into place, I was tasked with talking to people on the streets of Wellington about the impending lockdown.

Wearing an RNZ jacket and my trusty black face mask – and armed with an RNZ flagged microphone – I greeted people as I always do, by telling them I was an RNZ reporter.

That’s when I was attacked.

A tall blonde man tried to rip my face mask off, grabbed my ear and around my head.

He yelled that covid-19 was a myth, aggressively asked why I needed the mask, and said none of the pandemic was real.

Fortunately, I know how to handle myself and got out of the situation quick smart, but these situations are not isolated.

Other reporters have talked about overly aggressive anti-lockdown, covid-19 conspiracy theorists confronting them while they’ve been working.

Usually, we only see it online through social media, or in our email inbox from the brave few using creative pseudonyms.

Tide is changing
But if Tuesday night is any indication, the tide is changing. And it is not just the media who are noticing the swell of covid-19 discontent or disbelief.

Police arrested three people involved in an anti-lockdown protest in Christchurch on Thursday, after a group of 10 people gathered on the Bridge of Remembrance on Cashel Street.

Last time out, the police took an “educational approach”, telling people to pull their heads in and head home.

This time, they are acting far quicker in locking them up.

That is because they see the rise in this behaviour too, want to send a clear message to those who believe in “alternative facts”, and want to knock it on the head.

It has also been noticed by supermarket workers, bus drivers, airline staff, and any number of frontline workers across the country.

There are reports of people being kept off flights because they refuse to wear a mask.

Arrested in Northland
Police arrested two people in Northland on Wednesday for that very offence, and because they acted in a threatening manner towards supermarket staff at a Pak N Save.

The protests, the arrests, the number of people requiring “education” from the police are small compared to the vast numbers who are complying with restrictions.

But they are the tip of a digital iceberg, with a large online community which is consistently growing, feeding on the idea that covid-19 is either a hoax or perhaps a plandemic.

We all have an uncle, or a sister-in-law, or a neighbour, who tries to tell us the truth as they see it.

But how many people do they convince? How many people are now second guessing getting a vaccine because of misleading scientific “evidence” one of these people has been talking about?

It’s a dangerous situation we find ourselves in.

With anger and misinformation swelling like a tumour, there is added pressure on the government in these coming days and weeks to make the right decisions in steering the country through this current outbreak.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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