Science and faith and preventing the spread of COVID-19

posted: 10:00 pm - 22nd March 2020
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(Picture caption: Ministry for Pacific Peoples Chief Executive Officer Laulua Mac Leauanae with Counties Manukau District Health Board Chief Executive Officer Fepulea’i Margie Apa and Dr Sira Fuatai at the recent fono between Pacific church leaders and clinicians.) 

Northern District Health Boards and Pacific church leaders have joined forces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within Pacific communities in Aotearoa.

Facilitated by the Auckland team at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, the two groups came together at a fono on Friday to discuss how to create awareness around the rapidly evolving situation and effectively and accurately relay key messages to church goers.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon. Aupito William Sio spoke at the fono, reiterating the Prime Minister’s advice to avoid group gatherings, travel, physical contact when greeting someone, not to panic and to vigilantly wash hands, among other helpful tips.

Not being able to kiss and hug when greeting family and friends, or to gather to worship or celebrate events, goes against Pacific culture, he adds.

“However, responding to this pandemic requires a change in attitude among our people,” Minister Sio says.

It is a matter of looking at how things can be done differently, for example the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints services have been banned, and the Pope is conducting mass online for the foreseeable future, he adds.

WATCH HERE as Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon Aupito William Sio provides advice to Pacific Church leaders around COVID-19.  

Led by Counties Manukau District Health Board Chief Executive Officer Fepulea’i Margie Apa, a panel of clinicians provided information about COVID-19 at the fono.

The panel included Ministry of Health Pacific COVID-19 representatives Dr Api Talemaitoga, Dr Richard Hulme, Dr Siro Fuatai and District Health Board representatives Elizabeth Powell, Dr William Ranger and Dr Julia Peters, the Clinical Director for the Auckland Regional Health Service – who offered their knowledge and expertise on the unfolding situation to church leaders, and how they can best help their parishes.

With anxieties growing among the community, Dr Api Talemaitoga pleaded with church leaders to try and ease the concerns, by being proactive in essential gatherings, such as using hand sanitiser, having a register on the door, not sharing utensils and spacing people 1.5m apart.

The clinicians also urged the church leaders to encourage their people to boost their immune systems, as elderly and those with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Most importantly, people have been urged to stay at home if they feel sick, and to self-isolate if they have travelled in the past 14 days.

While the Government has not yet said churches will close, a key message is its leaders need to think about how it can be done differently.

Chief Executive Officer of MPP Laulu Mac Leauanae says it means transitioning for a season, to keep our people safe.

Reverend Viliami Sau of the Free Constitutional Church of Tonga in Ponsonby says the fono was invaluable.

“It was 100 per cent helpful and it has clarified many questions I had…after today, I will deliver the simple and clear messages we have been provided with to my parish,” he says.

The Ministry of Health also provided posters with COVID-19 information in English, Tongan and Samoan which the church leaders took away with them to help create awareness among their parishes.

A united front is needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the fono showed science and faith working together for the health and safety of the people.

Visit Unite against COVID-19 to learn everything you need to know about COVID-19 in one place.

This website has been set up by the New Zealand Government for people to learn the simple steps you can take to unite against the virus and slow its spread, as well as what help is available and to get the latest updates.