A Manukau student leader has made a heartfelt plea to New Zealanders to stop criticising South Auckland over the latest Covid-19 outbreak.
Micah Sili, student council president at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), asked for "a little empathy" for South Auckland and for the MIT student whose positive Covid-19 test plunged Auckland into this week's level-3 lockdown.
Her comments came as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said two South Auckland families that did not initially disclose that they had contact with each other during the last level-3 lockdown two weeks ago were "facing the judgment of the entire nation".
Sili said she had been "noticing some comments coming towards South Auckland", including many blaming the MIT digital technologies student who went to a gym after having a Covid test on Friday instead of self-isolating at home.
"I just want to message out there to practise one of our values, which is manaakitanga - to respect each other," she said.
"Forget your frustration. We understand it. But a little empathy goes a long way.
"We are a family of five million doing this, but at the moment South Auckland is spearheading this battle, so we are just asking for a little more support to our community."
MIT's 14,000 students reflect South Auckland's extraordinary ethnic diversity. In 2019, 32 per cent were of Pacific ethnicity, 30 per cent Asian, 27 per cent European, 16 per cent Māori and 7 per cent other ethnicities. Many listed more than one ethnicity.
More than half (52 per cent) of its domestic students were mature adults aged 25 or over, and 41 per cent studied only part-time.
Sili, a nursing student who studies in the same building as the digital technologies student above the Manukau railway station, said students' anxiety about Covid was worsened when the Ministry of Health initially posted the wrong address and some incorrect dates when the MIT case was first reported on Saturday night.
"That was corrected [on Sunday], but it did tend to add to students' anxiety," she said.
"Given any Covid case that close to a building, there is always that bit at the back of their head: 'Wait till I get the phone call.'"
The building is not just on top of the Manukau railway station but also next to the main Manukau bus station. Auckland Transport has done "fog spray sanitation" in both stations even though it said the infected student did not use public transport.
Some students are angry that the digital technologies student did not self-isolate after his Covid test. Tony Creighton, a former printer who is retraining as a builder in his 50s, said people were already unhappy with the first lockdown two weeks ago before the MIT case arose.
"What's happened with this person - my feeling is he wouldn't want his name to come out because there is a lot of pressure over the way it has come about," he said.
An electrical student, who asked to be anonymous, said he was disappointed with the way MIT had handled risks, allowing about 150 trades academy students from Auckland high schools including Papatoetoe High School to wait in a confined space to be registered on the first day of their courses last Monday, February 22, when Auckland was under alert level 2 restrictions.
"It was just so jam-packed in there that we didn't even bother walking into class because we all knew the numbers exceeded the numbers allowed," he said.
Business student Lovepreet Singh, an Indian student who represents international students on the student council, said many students panicked on Saturday night and wondered whether they should get Covid tests.
"I myself called the Ministry of Health [on Sunday] because I live with my close family," he said.
"They were like, there is no need for me, because I am just a casual contact."
But education lecturer Angela Yerkovich, co-president of MIT's branch of the Tertiary Education Union, got a Covid test at Takanini on Sunday even though she is also only a "casual contact", working in the same building as the digital technologies student but in a different department.
"My family are concerned because they know I work there," she said.
She said there was growing concern among staff about the Covid cases, but most lecturers' main concern was to get online learning under way.
"I think because it's so early in the year, a lot of people are feeling quite stressed and frustrated. It's a bit difficult to the last one [last year] when the students had had time to settle into their studies," she said.
Yerkovich teaches "neurally diverse" young adults and about 30 per cent of her students do not have their own computer at home.
"They have to use their phones or a sibling's device. It's challenging for them if they are sharing a device," she said.
An MIT spokesman said MIT has delivered 192 free laptops to students who needed them through the Government's Technology Access Fund for Learners since last March, with another 26 waiting for delivery. About 220 privately donated Chromebooks were also handed out.
"We have also provided a number of connections to students who don't have internet at home through the use of a 2degrees 4G dongle," he said.
"If students need help with technology during level 3 they can call 0800 62 62 52."