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By Sela Jane Hopgood of RNZ Pacific

The cancellation of this year’s New Zealand Pasifika Festival in Auckland because of coronavirus fears is expected to be a huge financial blow for some stallholders.

Dutchie Low, from Hawaiian Pineapple Hut, said he found out about the cancellation on Facebook, which was then followed by a few of his friends who were also stallholders texting him about the new plan.

“I was shocked. After 12pm, the Auckland Council decided to send an email to everyone that the festival is cancelled, but by then it was old news,” he said.

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“I totally understand why it needed to be cancelled, but I just wish they did not do it with less than 24 hours until the festival kicks off.

“I have got around $8000 of stock such as pineapples, watermelons and ice-cream just sitting here now, and I am unsure of what to do with it all because I can’t return it back to the store.

– Partner –

“I did keep in touch with the council through email asking them if the festival will be cancelled because of the coronavirus and if so please give us enough notice so that we don’t lose out financially, but they kept reassuring us that it will still go on.”

Low said he did not buy his stock the week before the festival because he had a feeling there was going to be a cancellation.

‘Trust council’s word’
“I had pressure from my supplier saying if I don’t confirm my order, they will sell it, so I had to try keep my supplier happy, but at the same time trust the council’s word that they won’t cancel, even though I had my suspicions.,” he said.

“I have a friend who was going to have a stall at the Māori village and she has $7000 worth of meat in her van. She was in tears when she heard the news.”


The announcement of the cancellation. Livestream video: RNZ

Company director of a Cook Islands’ clothing brand Mareko Island Creations, Mark Sherwin, said he had a feeling the event was going to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 coronavirus.

“We figured that there was a chance it was going to be dropped, but we still decided we’ll come over to New Zealand. I mean it’s a shame that it’s cancelled, but we totally understand.

“Before the festival, we were pushing our products online to sell and now that is the plan – to do more of that – seeing we can’t sell our clothing range at Pasifika.

‘Asked Cook Island help’
“We have asked the help of the Cook Island community in Auckland to find alternative locations for us to sell at as another option to help clear our stock. We have around $1000 worth of clothing in New Zealand and ideally we don’t want to bring it all back to Rarotonga.

“We have been a part of Pasifika Festival for over 10 years and so it is sad to see it not happening, but I am happy to see New Zealand take a stand because of the Covid-19.”

Meanwhile, the Pacific Business Hub based in Manukau City is opening its doors on Saturday to provide support to Pacific vendors left stranded by the cancellation.

“With continued vigilance, the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low. With that in mind, the Pacific Business Hub will open up its premises to hold a Pasifika pop-up market to allow our communities the opportunity to have stalls.

“We open our doors on the understanding that we are all responsible for our own health and safety at all times. If you have developed symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath seek medical advice and stay home.”

‘Safety of our Pacific neighbours’
The cancellation of this year’s festival was a decision made by advice that highlighted the safety of the Pacific countries that take part in the event.

Overnight, the Covid-19 Cabinet Committee met and considered the issue, and its advice was to cancel, based on concerns from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Associate Minister of Pacific Peoples Carmel Sepuloni said the primary consideration was New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

“MBIE indicated that the large amount of people that were likely to be in attendance from the Pacific and then therefore traveling back to the Pacific and the large nature of the event, keeping in mind that Pasifika Festival would have been the biggest event in New Zealand this weekend with around 60,000 people attending, would have meant contact tracing would have been incredibly difficult.

“If someone who has coronavirus was to attend and it was caught and taken back to the Pacific, it would be potentially detrimental.”

“We know the challenges in the Pacific in terms of the resourcing and the health infrastructure in general and we also know the challenges of the health conditions that our Pacific people in our Pacific nations have higher proportions of like diabetes, so it makes those populations much more vulnerable.”

“We don’t want to be in a position where we are hosting an event here that could lead to the spread of coronavirus to the Pacific region.”

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said the council was making decisions on an event by event basis.

“While the latest Ministry of Health advice is that New Zealand does not have a community outbreak of Covid-19 and the risk of a community outbreak remains low, Auckland Council, and the Cabinet Committee’s specific concerns are about the risk of the virus being transmitted to the Pacific Islands by attendees of the festival.”

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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