24 Aug 2020

Mandatory isolation for positive Covid-19 cases 'shocking, paternalistic and racist'

5:17 pm on 24 August 2020

A Māori health expert says the new mandatory isolation rules for people who contract Covid-19 in the community are shocking, paternalistic and racist.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Police at a managed isolation facility. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Anyone who receives a positive test must now stay at a managed isolation facility, rather than isolate at home.

Dr Elana Curtis from Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Uruta said the rule did not exist during the first wave of Covid-19 in New Zealand when most of the confirmed cases involved white people.

"That wasn't there when it was all the non-Māori, non-Pacific, young Pākehā travellers, so why have you done mandatory quarantine isolation for the brown cases and not the white cases?

"That is really quite shocking, it's paternalistic and it's racist."

But in a statement, provided after this story was first published, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said the decision to use quarantine facilities for community cases was made well before the current outbreak.

"It was made for public health reasons - analysis of previous clusters before and during alert level 4 lockdown showed high household transmission, and isolation and quarantine facilities provides better support for those with Covid-19. This decision was made regardless of ethnicity, to keep families together, and in consultation with communities." 

The MOH said there had been consultation with Māori and Pacific communities, including Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Uruta.

Elana was urging the government to reach out to Māori and Pasifika communities and health experts to inform how it responds to the latest outbreak.

"Really allow the communities and whānau to be empowered. A mana-enhancing and treaty-compliant approach would actually allow the solution to come from the Māori and Pasifika communities and not mandated from the top," she said.

"I'm not saying they are not doing some of that work, but what they did do was immediately jump to mandatory isolation for cases. That's a different move from last time... just these high-level decisions is a signal that they don't trust our communities.

"If you had come and spoken to health experts prior to jumping to that we wouldn't even have to soften it down, it would have been the right decision from the beginning."

Elana acknowledged that the government made some good decisions during the first wave of Covid-19 including acting quickly to eliminate it, but said there should not be a one-size fits all plan.

"[We don't need] a plan that will work for the majority, which is obviously non-Māori and non-Pacific in New Zealand, but a plan that has the flexibility to really make decisions based on Māori and Pacific realities. At the moment, it's mostly done on a Pākehā reality," she said.

"For example, the tangihanga restrictions. That didn't really take into account how important tangihanga were, and the fact that we could still maintain infectious disease control."

The latest outbreak of Covid-19 among Māori and Pasifika communities has sparked a barrage of racist comments and abuse online.

Dr Papaarangi Reid said that spoke to the underbelly of racist New Zealand surfacing.

"We've seen privilege surface and we've seen all the ugly things that we hoped that if we were being kind and all in it together that we would have got above," she said.

"It's disappointing but then again it's interesting that in our collective vision and in our collective thinking and in our collective action there's still that ability for us to resort to the racist underbelly of New Zealand society."

But she says the response from Māori and Pacific on the ground was also encouraging, and exemplary.

Ministry consultation

Regarding government consultation, the MOH statement said : "Minister Henare has met with the Te Roopu Whakakaupapa Uruta group twice, and on the second meeting Ministers Salesa, Sio and Mahuta also attended.

"This issue was raised by the Ropu and Ministers talked through the approach to quarantine in this second wave. ministers asked the group to keep them informed of any specific cases they may have heard where whānau were unhappy with quarantine arrangements but that to their knowledge whānau were ok with, and understood why they were asked to move into MIQ.

"The Ministry of Health and public health staff have been working with whānau/aiga/communities very closely, including with Maori and Pacific health providers and community groups (including churches).  There has been strong support from those whānau/aiga/communities for the public health measures that are in place.  There also iwi groups who have signalled an interest in establishing their own MIQs."

The MOH also said quarantine was not mandatory. 

"Community cases are individually assessed to ensure that they are in the most appropriate accommodation for their situation. This includes Managed Isolation or Quarantine Facilities (MIQs), hospital for those few who require more advanced levels of care, or supported accommodation in the community.

"Some of the current community cases and close contacts are self-isolating with oversight from the local Medical Officer of Health, in other circumstances where it is safe for them and the community to do." 

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