Coronavirus: Ashley Bloomfield hits out at 'disappointing', 'gutless' comments directed at Pacific community

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has hit out at racist remarks being directed at the Samoan community during the current COVID-19 outbreak, calling them "disappointing" and "gutless".

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health urged people to "be kind", saying the Pacific community has been at the receiving end of racist comments since health officials announced the high number of cases in the community. Dr Bloomfield reiterated this message during the case update on Wednesday.

"This is disappointing and frankly gutless. I'm asking everyone in the country to be kind. The virus is the problem, not the people. People are the solution," he says.

"There's a tremendous amount of work going on with this community and as we have seen in past outbreaks, they're incredibly responsive and I want to thank all the community leaders who are supporting our efforts to reach out and ensure that we support and look after that community."

The Ministry of Health says 69 percent of current cases are Pacific people, 16 percent are European, 10 percent are Asian, 4 percent are unknown, and 2 percent are Māori.

This high percentage is due to 105 cases linked to the Assembly of God Church in Māngere, making it the country's largest sub-cluster.

Ashley Bloomfield.
Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty Images

Dr Bloomfield thanked Pasifika communities for their high testing rates, saying they have "stepped up" throughout the pandemic.

"As I pointed out yesterday, right since the start of this pandemic, it is our Pacific communities who have had the highest testing rates of any ethnicity, and particularly in our outbreaks, we see their testing rates go up very high, so they're incredibly responsive."

Health experts say more support is needed for Māori and Pacific communities to be prioritised in the vaccine rollout.

Dianne Sika-Paotonu, head of Wellington's University of Otago Pacific office, said health inequities exist for these groups already and they are vulnerable to being disproportionately affected in this outbreak.

"Pacific health staff, Pacific health providers, Pacific community, family and church leaders, and many others who have already been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to encourage and ensure Pacific peoples and their families to get vaccinated and tested for COVID-19, also need to be supported to continue doing this work," she said.

There are a total of 210 cases in the outbreak, 62 of which were announced on Wednesday.