Even in this country of Aotearoa New Zealand there are those who like to spread rumours. The problem is that with all the social media platforms available, and the way their algorithms select “news” all too often truth gets drowned out by the cacophony of rumours, innuendos and lies.
In the case of the family at the centre of the current COVID-19 cluster in Auckland, the rumour mill has been working overtime. Social media attacks on the family are vile, and the fact that the family are part of the Pasifika community has brought out the worst of racism in some people.
Health authorities keep the identity and ethnicity of those with COVID-19 away from public scrutiny, but work colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, and the curious will in all probability be aware of their status and either accidentally or maliciously leak the information into the realm of social media. After that it gains a life of its own.
Unfortunately the rumours, innuendos and attacks on the family and and those of the same ethnicity have had such a traumatic effect that the Minister of Health felt it necessary to start Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing with a strongly worded statement:
When it comes to conspiracy theories, some politicians seem to like nothing better than to add fuel to the fire. It’s election time here, and so to some extent, innuendos that the government is less than honest, have a hidden agenda or are corrupt or incompetent do tend to pop up more frequently. But it’s disappointing that some politicians are using the pandemic as a political football. Mind you, To some extent, the Labour party has to accept some of the blame, as their campaign is based almost entirely on how well they, as government, have managed the pandemic.
I do however feel that Gerry Brownlee (deputy leader of the National Party) overstepped the mark with his comments made shortly after the Auckland outbreak was announced where he said “it was Interesting” that the recommendation to wear face masks, the Prime Minister’s visit to a mask factory, the director General of Health having a COVID-19 test, and the new COVID-19 outbreak all occurring within a relatively short time frame.
His intention might have been an indirect criticism of the news media for not investigating the possibility of a link between these “facts”, or it might have been an attempt to have the media act as a proxy for political point scoring as Parliament was not sitting, but it played right into the hands of the conspiracy theorists.
Even Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the government junior coalition partner New Zealand First, has got in on the act. On his recent visit to Australia, he claimed that he had information from a “reliable source” that there had been major security breaches at the border isolation facilities. While most Kiwis probably paid little heed to his comment, as he’s notorious for quoting “reliable sources” that turn out to have no substance, it’s precisely what the conspiracy believers crave for – validation from a supposedly reliable source straight from the mouth of a supposedly reliable public figure.
Many prominent scientists and medical professionals have made an open plea for politicians of all persuasions and community leaders to be very careful about how they ruminate in the public forum. They need to fact check before attempting to make one plus one equal three. In this country all the facts relating to COVID-19 and the pandemic are readily available, and unlike many countries our public service, including the health service, are outside the political arena. It’s one thing not to trust politicians, but it’s entirely another matter to believe that peer reviewed scientifically based information is part of some evil plot to eliminate/control/modify humanity.
General elections delayed by four weeks
I’m sure that since Jacinda Ardern has set a new date for the general elections (moved from 19 September to 17 October), there’ll be a conspiracist somewhere who will believe this is part of “the Plan”, whatever that is.
Contrary to the belief of some, the delay is a the behest of most political parties but not because visiting a polling station might be hazardous during lockdown as that can be managed – besides, early voting and postal voting are both available. An essential part of democracy is for those standing for election having an opportunity to argue their cause. That is why, after listening to politicians of all persuasion she put election back 28 days.
While this is less of an issue throughout most of the country (although a limit of 100 people at a political rally does pose its own problems), in Auckland where groups of more than ten are not permitted, the campaign trail has virtually gone cold.