The team of five million deserves better protection from Covid-19

Racism claim raises red flags and does no one any good

Dr Pushpa Wood
Wellington, April 10, 2021

Dr Pushpa Wood

It has been an interesting 24 hours listening to comments on various media outlets.

If you believe some of the commentators, you will be forgiven for believing that this a racist decision against Indians. This claim of racism, prejudice and discrimination by some commentators raised some red flags.

India is my birthplace and my motherland and New Zealand is the place in which I have chosen to spend my life. Both countries are equally important in my life. Of course, I am distressed at this decision but equally, I am aware of the fact that the current situation in India and especially high number of cases arriving at our boarders here do present some serious risks.

Watching the trends

I was going through the statistics of the past 30 days of people arriving in our country.

The reason I chose 30 days was because of the rapidly changing nature and rate of infections in various countries and this can easily influence the decision-making in respective countries.

These facts and figures influence our decision and being a small country with limited resources, especially limited MIQ facilities, we may not be on alert at all times.

Hence, the decision made by the New Zealand government on Thursday (April 8, 2021) does have merit, as they have been watching the trends.

What I mean is that the rising number of cases in various countries is only one of the many factors in making such decisions.

It is true that India is not alone in the yet again rising cases of infections.

However, what we also need to look at is the number of people admitted in the MIQ facilities during the past 30 days, which shows an interesting trend. It has been quoted that in the past 30 days that almost 2/3 of the cases in MIQ facilities are from India and other 1/3 are from the other countries.

If this is the case, then yes, as a nation we do need to take note and be prepared to protect the team of five million. It is the responsibility of this government.

Auckland International Airport (RNZ Photo by Liu Chen)

Not a ban on Indians

Some people are saying that this decision is a ‘racist’ decision and against Indians. I do not agree that it is a racist decision on the following grounds.

New Zealand has the right to protect its people first and I am one of those five million. Along with the rest of the country, I have made a lot of sacrifices over the past 12 months and we have made huge progress. I would like to safeguard that as much as possible.

The ban is not on Indians. It is on people arriving from India which includes people of Indian origin, New Zealand citizens and residents (who may, or may not all be Indians) and people touring India with New Zealand as their next destination.

The rules and/or restrictions on people arriving on our shores are the same regardless of which country they are coming from. What we need to consider seriously is why are these measures not working for people arriving from India and what has gone wrong in the process.

Systematic approach

Unless we know the reason, we cannot make improvements. Thus, the two week ban will provide experts in Australia and India to examine the processes in place, make any changes and improvements that may be needed and then implement those changes. Only by following a systematic approach that we will be able to resume travel as soon as possible.

We have taken swift action in the past whenever we have encountered a ‘high risk’ and Auckland lockdowns are an example of how the government can put measures in place to protect us all.

I am still struggling to find a reason/motivation for the New Zealand government to take such action on the basis of race rather than considering the risk factors for the nation.

Am I happy about the decision?

Of course not!

Could we have handled it better?

I am sure that if we had the luxury of time, we could have considered some other and less drastic actions.

Should the two-way dialogue between the two nations have taken place urgently to find some other alternatives?

A clever Virus

I am sure we could have. Hindsight is always a great thing but don’t forget that we are dealing an extremely clever virus, with an ability to change its course rapidly; and above all, the recent spike in the number of positive cases arriving at our shore despite the strict measure being put in place, does not give you the luxury of time to think about such decisions.

In essence, I sincerely believe that this is not the time to throw stones at each other, nor is the time for labelling each other. Rather we need to focus on the facts, provide some constructive suggestions to improve the processes and cooperate with the decision-makers to ensure that this ban is a temporary one and for a short time!

Here is to the team of five million!

Dr Pushpa Bhardwaj Wood is Chairman of the Wellington Chapter of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, Founding and Life Member of the Wellington Interfaith Council and India New Zealand Business Council Wellington Chapter Head. She is Director of the Financial Education and Research Centre (School of Economics and Finance) at Massey University.

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