28 Feb 2022

NZers most in need bearing brunt of Omicron outbreak

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 28 February 2022

New Zealanders who can least afford it are bearing the brunt of the Omicron outbreak - with isolation proving to be expensive or impossible for some.

Brown Buttabean foodbank team - Dave Letele (r)

The Brown Buttabean foodbank team - Dave Letele (r). Photo: David Letele

Despite the government's shift to phase three - which limits who has to isolate - tens of thousands of people are still off work or school due to Covid connections.

Thousands of New Zealanders are testing positive for Covid every day - and while that can be daunting for their health, for many, the fears are much greater.

Dave Letele runs Buttabean Motivation - a community fitness group which has turned into an Auckland wide foodbank.

Demand for their kai has skyrocketed over the past couple of weeks as Omicron surges - he estimates they are doing quadruple what they usually would.

"There's lots of people that have no margin for any error, no margin for any things like Covid or broken down cars or school fees or uniforms - stuff like that, so when it happens they don't have enough to survive."

Covid has forced one nearby foodbank to close, meaning there is even more pressure on Letele's team.

They were down to two workers last week and Letele tested positive on Saturday.

"Thankfully we've got some good volunteers and back up bubbles that can come in."

They are now supporting students from Avondale College and AUT as well as whānau across Auckland.

"It's just astronomical the demand - we can never meet it with our resource but we're just doing the best that we can."

Letele said despite being fit and strong, Covid had knocked him about and he encouraged people to take it seriously.

"Yeah pretty crook and just tired and light headed and sore throat - I can definitely see why you've definitely got to protect the vulnerable from this, especially when I hear people talk about 'Covid's not real' - I can tell you, it's real."

But for some people, taking time off work - despite being a Covid case or contact - is proving nigh on impossible.

Dave 'the Brown Butterbean' Letele. a former boxer who started the BBM fitness class.

Dave Letele runs Buttabean Motivation - a community fitness group which has turned into an Auckland wide foodbank Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

Unite Union assistant national secretary Gerard Hehir said workers in South Auckland and Dunedin were feeling it particularly hard, and especially the hospitality sector.

Some of their members had reported employers who had accused them of faking Covid symptoms and being told to come back to work.

The shift to phase three in the government's Omicron response has caused some confusion around isolation requirements, but Hehir said they have had also reports of bosses not informing staff when their co-workers have tested positive for Covid, despite having spent shifts together.

"Enormous pressure we're hearing across hospitality for workers to use their sick leave and annual leave, even though there are government support schemes for those who are required to isolate."

He said there were also concerns for those who were able to go to work - as the limited staff meant they were not able to take breaks or sometimes meet health and safety requirements.