In the Loop: Women’s Mongrel Mob leader on the gang’s Covid response

The leader of the Mongrel Mob Wāhine Toa wants gangs to be proactive in the fight against Covid-19 and more involved in decision-making.

The Waikato women’s branch leader Paula Ormsby told the Herald’s In the Loop podcast that gangs need to be part of decision-making in the Covid-19 response earlier in the piece.

“The Covid response for Māori was not good, the input for us didn’t happen for a long time and we’re still on the back foot there. And it’s the same with gangs.”

In September a woman who lived at an Auckland Pasifika Mongrel Mob gang pad tested positive for Covid-19.

At the time the Ministry of Health moved to establish a joint contact tracing team to work with members of the chapter, which is a part of the Waikato Kingdom.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told the Herald it’s important that the outbreak response recognises unique needs and adapts accordingly.

“A wide range of community groups and leaders have assisted the Auckland Regional Public Health Service in engaging with the community about isolation requirements for positive cases and close contacts, encouraging testing for Covid-19 and vaccination, and helping facilitate welfare support.”

Mongrel Mob Kingdom leader Sonny Fatupaito encouraged members at the time to “co-operate, get tested and isolate with whānau”.

“Like all of Aotearoa we want to eliminate Covid-19 in our communities and that’s why we are co-operating and supporting the Government’s Delta strategy,” Fatupaito said.

Ormsby told the Herald they were able to ringfence this cluster quickly and almost all of those impacted were now vaccinated.

When asked to confirm this, the Ministry of Health said unless there are compelling public health reasons, the Ministry limits the information provided publicly about individual cases.

When it came down to things like contact tracing, Ormsby said there was some hesitancy regarding sharing the names’ of family members or where community members had been.

“So we were brought in there to go, actually, you share this information with us and we can share that on.”

After a while, Ormsby said they were no longer needed because the relationship had been built.

“Some of them didn’t believe that Covid was even an actual thing. They thought it was a conspiracy until they actually got it. And so you’ve got a lot of those, kind of misinformation out there that our people are getting.”

She told In the Loop a lot of this was down to people getting information via Facebook and Messenger

“So then we realised how important it is to actually provide solid information for our communities to be able to make a fully informed choice.”

Ormsby would like to see the Government providing more resources so they can continue the effort.

“We would prefer to be proactive rather than reactive, and so we would actually really like to get out there before Covid hits other communities and actually get in there and start promoting and assisting to build trusting relationships.

“So that if it does reach that community those conversations have already been had and there may actually be a higher rate of vaccinations that have then actually gone on.”

She said there is a society of people that are only just surviving anyway, so when you add another layer of Covid to it, there’s additional stress.

Police were asked for comment but declined and a spokesperson told the Herald they had no statement to make on the matter.

Ormsby told the Herald they had just finished going into emergency accommodation with a team of vaccinators and testers.

“We’re taking it to them, we’re going around the doors knocking because we’re the trusted ones to say, did you guys want to get a covid test. And often they’ll go ‘oh nah I don’t want a test because I know I’m good, but can I get a vaccination?’ [Of] course you can.”

While Ormsby said there was “no doubt” gangs had been hugely responsible for “massive atrocities in the past”, she believes if they weren’t involved in the response many of these people would not have the confidence to access this support.

“If you want to reach a hard to reach communities you have to get the right people reaching them.”

Waikato District Health Board executive director of Māori, equity & health Improvement Riki Nia Nia told the Herald the DHB had been involved with vaccination events where all members of society including gang whānau were able to get their vaccination.

“Through these connections we have a range of people in the community who are able to support contact tracing, testing efforts and become advocates for the vaccine for their communities.”

Nia Nia said this had been really helpful and was an important part of their response as Covid-19 requires them to engage with all members of society for it to work effectively.

“Particularly in those communities where we have positive and active cases and contacts.”

The Ministry of Health spokesperson acknowledged the ongoing willingness of community groups and leaders to assist with the response, including engaging hard to reach communities.

“Health officials working across our Covid-19 response will continue to utilise the relevant skills and relationships members of the community have, when and where needed.”

In the Loop is available on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes come out every Friday morning.

You can find more New Zealand Herald podcasts at or on iHeartRadio.

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