Never a true word

Never a true word

For two years the NZ media has been telling Jacinda Adern’s lies for her; they have been right behind her dual society and poured shit on ordinary New Zealanders wanting to be heard at Parliament.

Now, these presstitutes want to tell the stories….who gave the green light?

The Long Road Back: How can New Zealand mend the mandate pain? 

Unvaccinated Kiwis locked out of society by vaccine mandates could soon be welcomed into the fold again. Some say it’s going to be a long road back; others don’t want to return. Virginia Fallon reports.

Dawn Bodger, 65, said being the consequences of being unvaccinated made her "feel like a leper, and it's really upsetting".

There’s a moment in conversation when everything changes, Ben Visser says.

It’s been happening for months when he’s been chatting away to a friend or stranger and the topic of vaccinations comes up. No, he’s not vaxxed, he’ll say, and then it’s all over.

“It’s like you’re dirty or dangerous, and you can see people recoil. As a result you feel segregated and often almost like a leper.

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“The mental damage caused by this will last for a while, and it’s a lot more severe than a lot of people realise.”

With the government expected to announce next week the winding down of restrictions, including mandates, the country is facing a long road back to social cohesion.

Some experts say the pathway lies in tough conversations, plenty of empathy and righting long-standing inequalities. Others say we may never get there, and that’s a price worth paying for the health benefits mandates have delivered.

Meanwhile, some of those affected by the rules say the damage has been done, and they no longer want to come back.

“It’s ruined the magic of being a New Zealander.”

Visser counts himself as one of our more fortunate outcasts.

One of the unvaccinated New Zealanders banned from much of society when the country’s mandates came into force last year, he says he’s one of the luckier ones.

He hasn’t lost his job, can handle not going to a gym, café or library, and doesn’t care how people react to his choice, but so many others he knows have really suffered. They’ve not only lost their livelihoods and lifestyle, they’ve been relegated to the very fringes, becoming almost non-human.

The Auckland property developer says so much damage has already been done to people like him who made the decision not to be vaccinated, then suffered the consequences. It’s not just the unvaccinated who’ve opposed the mandates either, there are many Kiwis who’ve been jabbed but accuse the government of overreaching..

Visser’s speaking out for the former of the two groups. Many he knows have lost their jobs, houses, and been ostracised by friends and family. It’s the latter that makes him the saddest.

“I’ve seen families destroyed with it. I’ve got friends who haven’t seen grandkids born in July last year. It’s caused a lot of damage among social groups and some of that won’t be repaired.”

He says the common media depiction of the unvaccinated and anti-mandate communities is that of rabid conspiracists which has effectively silenced those who aren’t, pushing the two groups together.

And, while no conspiracy theorist himself, Visser understands how easily others head down the rabbit hole of disinformation when they feel disenfranchised by their country. It’s easy to find comfort and meaning where you can when you’ve lost so much.

He doesn’t blame NZers for their fear and mistrust of the unvaccinated and does believe things are changing. People don’t care so much about others’ vaccination statuses and some are already dumping requirements for vaccine passes.

Visser says although Kiwis are a forgiving bunch, it’s going to be a long road back to reuniting the country.

“It’s ruined a lot of the magic of being a New Zealander and that’s my problem with it.”

”We’ve got our backs to the wall.”

Clement Field’s decision to not get vaccinated cost him the opportunity to walk his daughter down the aisle earlier this month. The mandates mean that if he had attended, the number of wedding guests would have been limited to 25 instead of 100, so he had to make do with watching it on Zoom.

He’d been planning to go but while spending Christmas with his children his “stressed out” daughter broke the news. He’s not angry with her in the slightest.

“She texted me just before she walked down the aisle and told me she loved me and missed me. It hasn’t caused a rift between us, I still love her.”

Field admits to being emotional on the day, though says there’s no point in crying about it any more. His real beef is with the government that he says has forced Kiwis into situations like his. He has friends who’ve lost their jobs and knows of teenagers who’ve reluctantly been jabbed so they can sit their drivers’ licences.

“It’s clearly caused a rift in NZ but those who are vaccinated don’t feel it because they’re in the majority. The rest of us feel like we’ve got our backs to the wall. “

Unable to be employed due to the mandates he’s living remotely near Nelson, working for himself and living without electricity.

“It’s been a silver lining. I’ve never had the courage to go and work for myself and suddenly I’ve had to do it. I don’t want to go back to the normal stuff.”

Massey University’s Dr Paul Spoonley says not only is it going to be a long road back for some Kiwis hurt by mandates, many of them, just like Field, may not want to get there.

Last year the sociologist spoke of his surprise in the degree of social mistrust, lack of sympathy and degree of condemnation from people who are vaccinated towards those aren’t. He’s still surprised by it.

“We’ve radicalised people, and they’ve moved from anti- mandate to anti-vaccination and anti-government positions.”

“I don’t want to lose my whare.”

Earlier this month, people attending the anti-mandate occupation at Parliament told similar stories to Visser and Field. The protest bought central Wellington to a standstill for weeks, earning condemnation from government, iwi, officials and other Kiwis before ending in a fiery confrontation with police.

But in the days before, while some protesters parroted conspiracy theories and expressed violent anger towards the prime minister and MPs, many also described lives torn apart by the laws.

There was Hawke’s Bay teacher Shantelle Brown who lost her job due to the mandates. The mother of eight is the sole provider for her family who she said were “not surviving”. Then there was Whanganui woman Kat Hiroti who used to work with at-risk children alongside police, Oranga Tamariki, and the Ministry of Justice before losing her job.

“I’m just hoping that the mandates stop,” she said. “Selling my house would be a last resort, I don’t want to give up my whare.”

And Wellingtonian Terri Grimmett, one of six Defence Force staff she knew of that had lost their jobs, describing her role in IT as the best she’d ever had. Also forced to leave her tennis club and choir, the 64-year-old said she shouldn’t be pushed into early retirement.

“It’s [the mandates] forced like-minded people to come together… the rest of NZ needs to wake up and see what’s happening.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Bodger lost her job as an early childhood teacher due to her refusal to get vaccinated. She said a friend had tried to serve papers to lay criminal charges against Health Minister Andrew Little over the death of Rory Nairn from Myocarditis.

“People are afraid of us, because they do not understand us.”

”They feel they’ve been turfed out of the waka.”

Leaders of some government agencies agree it will be a long road back to social unity.

Helen Leahy, pou ārahi/chief executive of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu says the biggest issue caused by the mandates is the polarisation of whānau and communities.

While the “team of 5 million” has been the government motto for uniting the country, Leahy says many of that supposed team have been excluded by the mandates.

“Some of them are feeling they’ve been turfed out of the waka, or they’re unable to climb into the waka.”

People need to remember there are reasons why others haven’t had the vaccine, and we have to be as kind to those people as we are to everybody else, she says.

“It will be a long way back on many levels. It’s financial, it’s emotional, and it’s really about finding a way back to happiness.”

Chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt had five meetings with protesters and their leaders during the occupation, walking the line between condemning the violence and misconduct, while listening to their concerns. He got a lot of flack for the meetings, but his role is to foster inclusion, and that means listening to those not feeling it.

“Pain, disaffection, alienation and anger is what I heard.”

He says if there is to be a way back to social cohesion the country has a lot of work to do. Issues of inequality need to be addressed, and not just in the traditionally disadvantaged groups that have been rightly prioritised for decades.

“We have to reclaim human rights for everyone, including disrespected, disaffected pākehā men, some of whom are living in poverty. Some of them have no sense of belonging to anything and are at risk of finding false comfort on the web and endless disinformation.

“This is incredibly dangerous. Universal human rights, alongside well-being and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, can help to defuse the danger.”

“New Zealand is facing two viruses.”

Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth says two viruses are plaguing Aotearoa, the coronavirus and the virus caused by polarisation.

“We’re going to wake up in a year’s time and maybe be through the epidemic, but we may not be through the social virus we’ve unleashed on ourselves.”

Duckworth spent the recent protest at the city’s Cathedral of St Paul, a place he says had a unique position as neither protester, police, nor government.

There, he and a church team supported protesters and negatively-impacted locals alike, not judging but talking, praying and making sure clean toilets were available. Although he disagreed with the protesters’ rhetoric, and was saddened by the conspiracies, he says there’s no denying both the price many have paid for their beliefs and the hurt they feel.

Though the mandates personally affect only a small percentage of the population the pain is huge, he says. It’s not a case of them and us, we’re all New Zealanders. And there is a road back, it just might be a long and rocky one, and there are myriad issues we’ll have to solve as we travel it.

“There’s economic marginalisation, a problematic social media element, and then it gets to our inability to have disagreeable conversations in public.

“We have to be able to disagree with a person yet still respect that person. We haven’t solved that as a society and this is a manifestation of that.”

“Mandates are the price we pay.”

Health experts acknowledge the mandates have been hard on a minority of Kiwis though say limiting the freedoms of a few has protected the many.

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw says the benefits of mandates can be measured in NZ’s lack of deaths and serious illness.

“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that’s killed 6 million people and made a lot very, very ill. What’s most important here – a few people’s need to not have a mandate, or our collective health and wellbeing?”

The researcher and science advocate says regardless of that, a small group of people have been genuinely hurt by the mandates and writing them off doesn’t help.

“But there are those from extreme groups who have infiltrated and manipulated people, and we shouldn’t forget that in the process of how we bring people back.

“If we’re going to bring people back there can’t be tolerance for those people in that space.”

Epidemiologist Michael Baker says yes, the mandates have been restrictive but they’ve done their job by preventing the death tolls and mass illness we’ve seen in other countries. While they may need to be revisited in future, it’s time to relax at least some of them.

“Overall I think we need to keep the vaccine pass for situations where it’s needed and use it very selectively for protecting the most vulnerable.”

He says aged care facilities are a prime example where healthcare workers should all be vaccinated, and mask mandates should also remain in place in high-risk situations.

While he understands the Covid mandates are “new and quite intrusive” they have nudged people into getting vaccinated which has saved lives.

“They’ve become a lightning rod issue that’s been taken out of context and dramatised. Mandates are everywhere. Mandates are the price you pay for no longer living in a cave and living with other people.”

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