Greetings and Acknowledgements and Warm Pacific Greetings to one and all.
It’s a privilege to be able to join with you this afternoon and share some remarks on how important you are to our communities throughout Aotearoa, and across the Pacific region.
COVID-19 has been described as a one in a hundred year phenomena. It is wreaking havoc on economies world-wide, and impacting on our human, social, cultural and spiritual wellbeing, in a way we’ve never seen or experienced before.So far, there’s been more than 235 million cumulative cases recorded globally and over 4.8 million deaths. In the WHO Western Pacific region a cumulative total of over 8.7 million cases have been recorded, with more than 118,000 deaths.In the last 24 hours in our region, more than 36,000 newly reported cases and 369 newly reported deaths have been recorded.
To give you a sense of what’s happening in the region – Fiji has recorded more than 51,000 confirmed cases with 638 deaths; In French Polynesia, they have had 40,178 confirmed cases with 624 deaths (Those numbers could be conservative, as French Polynesia data has not been available since 25 August 2021). New Caledonia has recently been devastated, and now has had 8642 confirmed cases with 165 deaths.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, I think we have been very blessed, so far. We have had a total of 4,480 cases, since our first confirmed case last year, and a total of 28 deaths. However, it is very likely we will see more deaths before we stamp out and contain the tail of the recent outbreak;
Economically we have been losing more than $250 million a week with Auckland at Level 3 and the rest of the country at Level 2. We were also losing about $1.5 Billion a week when we were on Alert Level 4. The current situation is unsustainable. Our health workforce are fatigued. Our health providers need rest for their own wellbeing.
Our People confined at home need human contact and want their freedom of movement. Businesses require trade to survive and flourish. Workers want certainty of income and job security. There is a limit to people’s patience and willingness to carry the burden of others too.
This crisis has a tendency to bring out the worse in people, especially when social media platforms can easily amplify hatred, pain, misinformation, cruelty and negativism. And as we all know negativism begets more of the same and worse.
The months of October and November this year – 2021 - marks exactly 110 years since a catastrophe of epic proportions hit New Zealand and then the Pacific island nations of the region.
The flu pandemic of 1918 is regarded as New Zealand’s most devastating peacetime event of the time, with 9000 deaths and 40% of the population infected. It followed on directly from the devastation of the First World War, so communities were already traumatised. And to make matters worse, people gathered in large crowds to celebrate Armistice Day allowing the flu virus to spread quickly.
During the second wave of the flu pandemic, the steamship SS Talune left Auckland harbor with a “clean bill of health”, quote unquote, and the captain knowing it had sick people on board. Historians say the clean bill of health was more intended to stop the spread of other infectious diseases - smallpox, cholera and plague being the big three.They didn’t know anything about viruses. The majority of doctors then. didn’t recognize the flu as infectious.
The Talune travelled around the Pacific islands in November 1918, mainly between New Zealand, Fiji, and Western Polynesia leaving the flu in its wake.
In Fiji, somewhere between five and seven percent of the population died. In Tonga between 1000 to 2000 people died. In Western Samoa, as it was known then, was the worst-hit country in the world. Roughly a quarter of the local population, or about 8,500 people died in eight weeks. Medical historian Ryan McLane says, and I quote "More than anything else, influenza normally kills infants and the very old … this particular variant of the 1918 exclusively or nearly exclusively killed 18-45 or 50 year olds, which were the people most active in society. So when I say that a quarter of the population of Samoa died, we're talking about more than half of the young adults dying in the space of eight weeks, he said.
"It actually broke the country for a period - 90 percent of the adults were simultaneously bedridden and were not able to do anything.A famine ensured because crops handn’t been planted, with so many adults sick and bedridden.When the sick recovered, the majority of their leadership had died.
"The traditional leadership, the church leadership, the teachers, the trading factors - these individuals in many cases they lost 60 to 70 percent of those people or more of those people to the flu."
Most of those that died were adults, leaving many, many children without parents;
The devastation of the Flu pandemic had a crippling effect on Samoa’s leadership in 1918. Cultural knowledge was lost with those who died. Many of the living were too young to protect and maintain the oral record.
It impacted on everything from the loss of geneaology, loss of family oral history, loss of indigenous knowledge on the environment, the oceans, the forests and indigenous health and spiritual practices. These oral records were usually passed onto the next generation by word of mouth, by memorization, songs, poetry and oratory. The deaths of so many adults meant those oral histories died with them. The loss of leadership in families, meant land boundary disputes, and the erosion of family relationships and extended family connections, which extends to this day and age.
In 1962, a few short decades later, Samoa organised and re-mobilised the Mau movement that led Samoa to become the first colonised country in the Pacific to regain its independence. A significant moment in Samoa’s history. This is one of many examples of our Pacific histories that demonstrate dedication and perseverance in the face of adversity by our ancestors.
We are a resilient people. Our history teaches us that we are a brave and fearless people – People of the Vast Moana. We hold our own, and can stand united to face whatever comes our way.
Climate Change is another example of the determination and resilience of the Pacific region.
At last month’s SPREP meeting I was proud to add New Zealand’s voice and stand united with the Pacific Island leaders to let the world know that we will not give up and that we will fight to defend our right to survive, our right to self-determination. That we will continue to demand the world reduce their carbon emissions to 1.5 degree Celsius, while at the same time the Pacific are getting on with adapting to the rising tides and strengthening our resolve and resilience against the frequency and intensity of countless natural disasters.
I am always amazed at our people’s strength and resilience. After every cyclone, after every storm, or king tide or tsunami, after mother nature releases her full destructive might, our Pacific peoples pick themselves up every time and start again.
Today in 2021 – we are facing another global pandemic of epic proportions. Again, it has devastated our families in French Polynesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Guam and PNG – in particular. In Aotearoa, the latest COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak has hit our Pasifika communities hard.
The recent outbreak has invaded our positive spirit, and it has really tested our perseverance. Delta has challenged our resilience. The lockdowns is compelling us to examined our faith, and questioned our values and our resolve. But like the voyagers of our past ancestors, across the vast pacific ocean, we too will continue to paddle our own canoes forward, adapting and remaining resilient.
So I want to make a plea …Don’t wait – get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID.
More than 2 million people are fully vaccinated and more than 3.3 million people have received at least one dose. More than 5.3 million doses have now been administered.
73% of Pacific people between the ages of 12 years plus have received their first dose (more than 213,000); and 45% have been fully vaccinated (more than 133,000)
The vaccine is safe and effective. It is in my mind, the last layer of protection against COVID-19. It will reduce the chances of you getting ill and sick. It will reduce the chances of you requiring hospital care or the use of ventilation machines. It has been proven to reduce the chances of you dying.
We’ve come a long way since 1918 and the Spanish Flu but some things remain the same - we find strength from one another, strength in our families and communities, and strength in our faith and values. So, it’s in that spirit that MPP has called this fono for you – to come together and to connect first and foremost – as descendants of Pacific warriors serving the New Zealand public in your capacity as public servants.
In times of crisis, we come together, whether in person or now more commonly - virtually. I want to thank the Ministry for hosting this fono. It is very timely. And I want to thank you for your commitment, service and tautua to the people of New Zealand during what’s been a difficult couple of years.
As Pacific public servants you are viewed by many in our communities as a special group of people. Our communities look up to you because you work for Government. In addition, you belong to their families, churches, businesses, autalavou, or voluntary organisations, boards, and communities and in many cases, leaders within your own spheres.
This is important because we know that Pacific people get their information from trusted sources such as family, friends, colleagues, and fellow church members, and indeed the son, daughter, or parent, or uncle or auntie that works for the Government..
So, you are all well-placed within your own families and communities to encourage, promote and role-model public health behaviours that we know offer the best protection against the COVID-19 Delta variant. Protect yourself and your loved ones against COVID-19.
In times of crisis, as we are experiencing today, your leadership is called upon. It is only in times of hardships or crisis, that the real measure of strong and resilient leaders will emerge. Our families and communities will need your leadership.
In order for New Zealand to reconnect with the rest of the world, and return to the kinds of freedoms we enjoyed before the arrival of COVID-19, we must transition out of the lockdown level system we’re currently using into a new framework of movement and freedoms.
However, in order to transition safely towards greater freedoms and movements in a permanent COVID-19 global environment, it is vital we vaccinate our entire Pasifika population and to do it as quickly as possible.
In the upcoming week of activities which will culminate in a Day of Action on Saturday 16th October, I invite you all as leaders of our communities and as leaders of the Public Sector to use every circle of influence you have, every network, every social media account you have, every means at your disposal to lead our families, our communities, our friends and our loved ones to get vaccination done quickly.
Again, I thank you for your dedication, your tautua, for all New Zealanders.
Bula vinaka vaka levu. Soifua ma ia Manuia. Kia Kaha everyone. Stay safe.