‘Vile slurs’ about infected family spread
The family at the centre of the COVID-19 cluster in Auckland were left "shell-shocked" when their tests for the virus came back positive.
The family of four, made up of three adults and a young child, were confirmed to be infected just hours before the news was given publicly in an emergency broadcast late on Tuesday, the NZ Herald reported.
It comes as the nation confirmed 13 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand - 12 in the community and one in isolation.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins issued a stern warning about social media, saying sharing of unverified information had created "extreme distress" for the family at the centre of the current cluster.
He said one post in particular contained a "number of vile slurs and was totally and utterly wrong".
Hipkins said it smacked of malicious behaviour.
"At a time we are fighting a pandemic, this sort of behaviour is designed to create panic ... and is completely unacceptable," he said.
He made a plea to New Zealanders to be careful about what the believed and shared, and said information sourced on social media could not be treated as official.
Hipkins said there have always been rumours but this smacked of orchestration.
He begged people to think twice before sharing unverified "nonsense".
"Please take your information from official sources," he said.
"The information here is verified, the information that we share during these press conferences ... is information that you can trust. If a mistake is made, it is quickly corrected."
Pacific health leader Dr Collin Tukuitonga said he knew the family and was in touch with them on Tuesday evening.
Short update Sat 15/8 supporting sound decision by Govt to extend Level 3 in AKL pic.twitter.com/R2G5BGz8aB— Colin Tukuitonga (@ColinTukuitonga) August 14, 2020
"They were shell-shocked that this had happened and they were a little embarrassed that it had happened to them," he said.
Dr Tukuitonga, the Associate Dean (Pacific) and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Auckland, said the family - now in quarantine at a managed isolation facility - had a strong support system.
A small group of people were protecting the family - encouraging them not to read comments online and rumours that had started to spread on social media.
"It's not easy. The comments on social media have turned nasty."
Dr Tukuitonga acknowledged anger among the Pacific community in the last few days after it was revealed the South Auckland family at the centre of the cluster are of Pasifika descent.
But doing so was important, he said, as this second wave of COVID-19 has hugely affected the Pacific community.
Of the 37 active cases in the community, up to 80 per cent identified as Pasifika.
"With the first wave, we were under-represented. But this second wave, the majority are Pacific.
"The Pacific community needs to understand that this time, it's different. Once you hear that - you can get quite (serious) about it," he said.
"It just takes one highly infected person who goes to church or a function and that person alone can infect hundreds."
Dr Tukuitonga is well respected in the health sector around the Pacific region.
He has worked for the World Health Organisation as the Co-ordinator of Surveillance and Prevention of Chronic Diseases, the chief executive for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs and the Director of Public Health.
A CALL TO REPORT SECOND WAVE FIGURES SEPARATELY
Dr Tukuitonga's bid to encourage more Pasifika people to get tested and to take this second wave seriously has resulted in him calling on current director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to report the statistics separately.
"I've sent a message to Ashley - we trained together - about this. I've been lobbying for the results to be reported separately.
"Of the 30-something cases in the community, all but two are Pacific."
Yesterday, Reverend Victor Pouesi said he had urged up to 300 people at his congregation who attended church on Sunday to get tested after members of another family who attend that church had been confirmed as having COVID-19.
One of that family's members is understood to work with the initial family of four who contracted COVID-19.
Members of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, Māngere East Puaseisei were out in force at the church grounds yesterday after a pop-up testing station was set up specifically for members.
Dr Tukuitonga wants Pacific peoples to understand the gravity of the situation but also that the numbers of cases will go up before they come down again.
"Yesterday, the case numbers were high. Then they came down to seven. We're praying to God that tomorrow it's only two - and then eventually, none."
This article originally appeared in the NZ Herald and was reproduced here with permission.
Originally published as 'Vile slurs' about infected family spread