Churches blamed for spreading Covid virus and misinformation

Many of the new Covid cases in Auckland are linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church, and there is growing criticism of the attitude of some churches to Covid, and for spreading misinformation similar to what is being spread by US churches.

Yesterday Minister of Health Chris Hipkins hinted at concerns about attitudes to testing and disclosure about Covid.

RNZ: Student who tested positive an undisclosed contact, Hipkins says

“We did identify yesterday, in the cluster of cases announced, that there were a couple of cases that had not been previously identified … it would appear that somewhere along the way someone has not fully disclosed all of their contacts.”

“Obviously this is information we’d have liked to see sooner and we may have had fewer infections as a result had we known about the chain of connection.”

The authorities are now looking into whether that was on purpose.

“We’ve got community leaders in there, we’ve got police working alongside Auckland Regional Public Health as well to make sure we are getting all of the information that we need.

“That’s one of the things that the investigation is looking at now and it will include looking at whether there was a deliberate decision not to disclose, or whether it was simply an oversight,” Hipkins said.

He said this sub-cluster has been a challenge to work with as some members do not understand the seriousness of the situation.

“There are certainly some within the cluster that perhaps don’t accept or haven’t previously accepted the science involved here.”

They are now being educated on the gravity of the situation, he said.

“It would certainly appear that they were skeptical at the beginning,” Hipkins said. “I think that a lot of work has been done with them since then.”

Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told Morning Report

… it’s not surprising to hear some in the community are skeptical about Covid-19 and disinformation has been spreading.

“There are very key people in our communities within New Zealand and people in positions of influence who are really trying to disrupt our team of five million by spreading false information about the pandemic,” Wiles said.

“If that’s the reason why some people are not disclosing contacts or have not been cooperating, we’re now going to see the consequences of that.”

“This is a team of five million. This is about people and it only works when we all do our bit … it’s on all of us to be really mindful about sharing disinformation and talking to people around us who might be having these views.”

Today from RNZ: Churches with links to the US being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation

New Zealand churches with US links are being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has said some of the 43 people linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church cluster in Auckland were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic, as church and community leaders say they face a battle to check the spread of false information.

Pakilau Manase Lua grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist church and said his own friends and family were guilty of spreading conspiracies and false information about Covid-19.

“I’ve personally received lots of private messages regarding information that people think is useful but is purely disinformation, either about the virus itself or fear around the vaccine,” he said.

Lua, who is the chairman of the Pacific Leadership Forum’s Pacific Response Coordination Team, said this spread was especially rife among those with links to conservative evangelical or pentecostal churches in the United States.

“It’s been spreading like wildfire through social media.”

Including here. It’s not just linked to churches, it is also political.

Media chaplain and Wesleyan Methodist minister Frank Ritchie said some ministers were losing the battle to stem the flow of misinformation amongst their congregations.

“What I’m seeing is ministers who are doing the right thing, but their people are being indoctrinated online.”

Some congregation members were angry their minister did not agree with what they were reading on the internet about Covid-19, he said.

A study by Te Puunaha Matatini found there was a spike in mainstream media coverage of conspiracy theories following the outbreak of Covid-19 in August.

Researcher Kate Hannah said they were often spread by marginalised people who were historically distrustful of science or government.

Lua, who set up an online Kava Club during the March lockdown, said the forum was often used to spread fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.

But he was also using it as a space to challenge that, with some success.

“We tell them straight up ‘that’s rubbish’ and ‘here’s the other side’.

“So we give them the information and evidence and every now and then we’ll have a win, but it is hard because there is so much disinformation out there.

This ‘misinformation’ – with some it’s ignorance being spread, with others it seems to be deliberately used to make political attacks – is a risk to the whole country.

The current spread of Covid in Auckland is keeping the city and the country in level 2 lockdown. This impacts on community health, and also on jobs and businesses around the country.

People who spread crap are putting us all at risk.