New Zealand Mongrel Mob leader given essential worker exemption to help boost Covid tests

Head of the Waikato Mongrel Mob chapter Sonny Fatupaito was asked to encourage gang members and their families to get tested

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has endorsed granting a Mongrel Mob leader special exemption to cross Auckland’s border so he could help minimise Covid-19 spread in hard to reach communities.

The head of the Waikato Mongrel Mob chapter, Sonny Fatupaito, was given essential worker status, which enabled him to enter Auckland last weekend, while the city was under level three lockdown, with a border in place.

A spokesperson for the Mongrel Mob, Louise Hutchinson said: “Indigenous health experts have highlighted that gang communities are high risk and need tailored intervention to minimise the spread of Covid-19 into wider communities.”

The Crisis Management Team in South Auckland requested Fatupaito’s help to encourage gang members and their families to get tested for the virus, she said.

“This travel was conducted under strict Covid-19 protocols enforced by health authorities and the police,” Hutchinson said.

The country’s outbreak of 1,381 cases has established itself along stark ethnic lines: about 83% of infections in the current outbreak are Māori and Pacific New Zealanders, who only make up about 27% of the total population combined. About 56% of eligible Māori have had one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, compared to 73% of Pasifika and 79% of all people aged 12 and over.

Cases have been reported in emergency accommodation, and within three different gangs. Speaking to Radio Hauraki on Wednesday morning, Ardern said the Mongrel Mob boss had been part of their ongoing work to track and isolate the virus.

“We’ve got cases in gangs, and that makes this job really hard.”

Gangs have existed for decades in New Zealand, and their patched jackets make them highly visible in the community.

Nationally, gang numbers have grown by almost 50% in the past four years, increasing from 5,343 to 8,003, according to the Gang Intelligence Centre.

The Mongrel Mob has been liaising with the Northern Region Health Coordination Centre, Auckland Regional Public Health Service, and the police, to reach its members, Hutchinson said.

Its work began with the sub cluster at the Assembly of God Church in Manukau – the largest in the outbreak with more than 370 cases – which then spread to the Auckland Mongrel Mob chapter. The mob has worked closely with providers South Seas Healthcare and the Cause Collective based in South Auckland.

It will also hold a Covid-19 education workshop later in the month in Waikato, with Indigenous health experts.

The essential worker exemption has drawn criticism from National Party politicians, who claim gangs are getting priority, but those working with the mob say it is an important tool in the fight against Covid.

The Cause Collective spokesperson Jerome Mika said gangs did not always have access to wifi, and were not as connected with the health system and services as other communities, making it harder for officials to reach them.

“[Fatupaito] has worked really hard around eliminating Covid, and I think, if anything, that is commendable for a leader from a gang. We have also done work with him, where he has been able to suit up in full PPE. This is the sort of leadership we need to help us eliminate Covid. We need all hands on deck.”


Eva Corlett in Wellington

The GuardianTramp

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