Conspiracy Theories Are Alive and Thriving in Kiwi Hospitality

It started with a story on masks.

Here at Restaurant & Café magazine, we want to see the Kiwi hospitality and foodservice sectors get back on their feet as soon as possible and it seems that this can only be achieved if the country stops bouncing in and out of Alert Levels that come with tough restrictions.

We proposed that a simple way that Kiwis, both workers in the industry and the public, could prevent another lockdown at Level 3 or higher was to wear a mask. We asked our readers what they thought about PPE in the workplace and the response was not exactly what we had expected.

There were a couple of responses from owners who felt that wearing masks and other PPE was important in helping the hospitality industry re-build.

“We wear PPE to keep ourselves, our whanau, and our customers safe. Masks are proven to be an effective way to protect everyone when COVID-19 is present in our communities,” said one respondent.

“Just common sense. When close to people, especially in closed areas, wear the mask to protect yourself and others, but in open areas outside it is not necessary,” commented another. “Is that simple or what? You only have to look overseas to see the consequences of not doing that.”

There were quite a few respondents, however, who did not agree.

“Absolutely ridiculous! It is abundantly clear that COVID-19 is nothing more than a common cold and in truth nobody has died from it. People have died ‘with’ coronaviruses but not ‘of’ coronaviruses,” said one.

“My feelings are that anyone wearing a mask or thinking that this Plandemic is real (some say Scamdemic, some Frankendemic - they are all correct!) is a pathetic mindless sheep - so easily fooled and so quick to comply,” offered another.

“There is absolutely no medical justification for the enforcement of face masks or a state of national emergency in New Zealand, where we have plenty of space, a small population and almost zero positively tested cases,” suggested another.

These responses seem to reveal an increasing lack of trust people have in the government and in the national media to tell the truth and do the best for us. I ignorantly assumed that these sorts of feelings were relegated to countries of larger and more divided populations like the United States.

The distraction of the general election goes some way in explaining this lack of trust, who’s words do you believe when all that politicians want is your vote? Jacinda Ardern doesn’t help by taking selfies with large, non-socially distanced groups. If the leader isn’t wearing a mask, why should her followers? With the media focusing on election issues, I think many Kiwis feel like COVID-19 is no big deal anymore. But it is.

We only need to look at countries like Spain to see that a lack of government guidance can lead to dire circumstances. At the beginning of September, Spain became the first European country to record more than half a million coronavirus cases. Government officials have pointed the finger at the country's youth who have been partying, socialising, celebrating with friends and families and disregarding rules around social distancing.

The Spanish government, however, has responded by leaving much of the fine detail regarding guidance to regional jurisdictions. Track and trace procedures and rules regarding mandatory face coverings are neither uniform nor rigorous and when someone tests positive, authorities have difficulty tracing their contacts.

New Zealand doesn’t want to be the next Spain. Nor do we want to be like England where hospitality businesses are struggling under a harsh new curfew rule and where they have the possibility of an emergency two-week lockdown hanging over their heads – a move that will cripple smaller establishments.

Wearing face coverings and adhering to social distancing seem like no-brainer moves in the fight to help stop the spread of coronavirus. It worked in 1918 with the Spanish flu, which still took two years to be completely eradicated. Perhaps some patience is also required before we completely throw out the scientific data backing the use of face masks in helping curb the spread of infectious disease.

It might not be clear how long we will have to continue to deal with this pandemic, what is clear is that while we remain divided on the issue of how to deal with it, we will definitely be in for more strict lockdowns in the near future and I don’t think anyone in the hospitality and foodservice sectors wants that.