Church steps up for families struggling to self-isolate
As you drive around Ma¯ngere, a defining feature is the number of large churches. But what is also clear is that it’s a suburb chocker with sleep-outs, converted garages and portable cabins – a clear indicator of a community struggling with an under-supply of affordable housing.
With South Auckland currently dealing with more than 3700 active Covid cases, the extra pressure self-isolation rules place on overcrowded households is obvious.
But as Reverend Victor Pouesi says, churches like his Efikasa congregation in Ma¯ngere East are uniquely equipped to be of use at a time like this.
Pouesi, who has just come out of self-isolation himself, has been supporting 14 boys who are recuperating inside his church’s large hall after contracting Omicron.
The boys, whose families all attend the church, had just returned from the Soundsplash festival in late January to the news that their households were isolating due to being close contacts of a Covid case.
The boys were initially asked to stay in the hall to avoid catching the virus, but it was soon discovered most of the group had actually become infected with Covid at the Hamilton event and would need to stay locked down until they also returned negative tests.
Pouesi says this situation has highlighted how valuable churches can be when the region is heaving under an avalanche of Omicron cases.
‘‘There are so many churches in South Auckland, but they have been pretty much locked down [due to attendance restrictions for church services] so we might as well use them in this way.’’
He says his church has relatively new facilities, including a kitchen and recreation space, making it ideal for the isolating young men in their late teens and 20s. Along with health and wellbeing checks being carried out by South Seas Healthcare staff, the minister also checks in with the boys every night.
‘‘Every night we hold our evening prayer service to encourage them and make sure they are
doing OK mentally. And given they are all friends, they’ve been saying that even though they tested positive, they have enjoyed being able to support each other.’’
Pouesi, who has also just recovered from his own brush with Covid-19, says almost his church’s entire congregation of 90 families are currently selfisolating.
Pouesi would like to see if his church can continue to be used as a self-isolation facility once the boys leave.
‘‘Once our church no longer needs this, we can let South Seas use it for other communities to come here, because others may not have halls or spaces. With the help of Pacific providers, the government should use community facility halls like ours as it’s already there, and they don’t have to add anything.’’
In response to questions regarding the use of churches as self-isolation facilities, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said a wide range of third-party facilities can be used, ‘‘including hotels, motels, or iwi-owned facilities’’, and as a last resort, ‘‘campervans will be considered … if all other options are exhausted’’.