Ministry of Health condemns abusive behaviour towards library staff over contact tracing

Westport Library.
Westport Library. Photo credit: GoogleMaps, Getty

The Ministry of Health has condemned abusive customers who hurled insults at West Coast library workers managing contact tracing.

On Wednesday, an employee at Westport Library was left in tears after being called a 'maggot' by one customer.

"[She was] doing her job and following what we have been asked to do by the Ministry of Health to keep you and herself safe," Buller District Libraries said on Thursday.

"There is never an okay time to be abusive towards staff. Come on Buller we know you can do better than this!"

Another worker at the library called on Kiwis to be more understanding of contact tracing.

"Being called colourful names is not new to us. It's probably the increased volume we are currently receiving while we are all struggling with [alert level 2] fatigue," she said.

"There's only so many insults you can have in a week hurled at you."

She said they "absolutely" trespass abusive visitors but they don't often leave before they can.

"They usually turn up, say their bit, turn around and leave before I can be informed."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said abuse and insults are "completely unacceptable at any time". 

"It's even worse when it's aimed at people who are working hard to keep us all safe," they said.

"The message to those tempted to treat frontline staff badly is to stop, to think, and to put yourself in their shoes."

Auckland University microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles also labelled the behaviour as "awful".

"Please let your team know that so many of us are so grateful for the incredible work you are all doing," she told the library.

However, since the incident, the library said the West Coast community has come together to support them.

Multiple vases of flowers and boxes of chocolate were left for the library workers by kind locals on Thursday.

"We knew you had it in you Buller," the district library said.

"The staff were overwhelmed with aroha today. Phone calls, messages, flowers and food. This was very unexpected but greatly appreciated.

"Our messaging was to let you know what was happening in your community space and you've said 'that's not okay' with volume! Thank you!"