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Like the ripples travelling across a pond after a stone has been thrown into it, Covid-19’s repercussions keep on coming, reaching into every corner of our lives.
When an event on the scale of a pandemic or a major disaster happens, it consumes everything around it.
Those who lived and struggled their way through the years of the Christchurch earthquakes will recognise this pattern — nearly everything you do or have to deal with or read about is somehow linked to the disaster, however tangential it may seem initially.
When all roads lead back to the starting line, it is easy to become perplexed and mentally lost.
With something like Covid-19 there is such a vast amount of information, and misinformation and disinformation, to sift through and process that staying in the correct lane is no mean feat.
Which is why we need guides to lead us along these labyrinthine paths, to literally and metaphorically keep us on the straight and narrow. These experts need to come from recognised and respected organisations, and not some crackpot group that aims to suck the gullible down a rabbit hole.
Who immediately comes to mind as our guides at this difficult time? People like the director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the World Health Organisation’s head Dr Tedros Adhanom. And, more arguably, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
But we also need trusted specialists, largely independent of the constraints and spin of government. This is why we have scientists and universities in our midst. How lucky the New Zealand public has been to have Prof Shaun Hendy and Associate Prof Siouxsie Wiles communicating facts about the virus and outbreaks, and where to from here, over the past nearly two years.
These high-profile academics from the University of Auckland have steadfastly explained the science behind the coronavirus and shared the results of the latest modelling for the virus’ spread.
They have been much in the public eye and have brought prestige to their university by carrying out a vital public engagement role and by acting, as academics can, as both critic and conscience of society.
Unfortunately, sticking heads above the parapet is a risky manoeuvre in tall-poppy averse New Zealand at the best of times.
And these are definitely not normal times.
Consequently, Prof Hendy and Prof Wiles have attracted more than their fair share of vitriol for doing their jobs well and for going beyond to keep us in the picture.
What we haven’t seen simmering behind the scenes during all this has been a dispute between the two and the university over its lack of support for them and for not doing enough to ensure their safety in the face of harassment.
The Employment Relations Authority has determined there are important issues of law involved in their claim and has approved the case going up to the Employment Court, a move the university opposed.
The two researchers say since April 2020 they have been asking for help to protect them from public harassment by email, social media and in person, but the university has failed to put any such measures in place.
In the worst case, Prof Wiles received a threat to her safety at home, while Prof Hendy was confronted in his office by someone who threatened to "see him soon", the determination says.
The university says it has responded appropriately and taken steps to ensure their safety on campus. But it claims much of their communication has been done in their private capacities, thereby breaching a university policy.
On the face of it this response seems both weak and weak-kneed.
The university needs to have the guts and the gumption to stand up and fully support these academics doing such critical communication work for Kiwis.
If the University of Auckland is not going to back its experts and academic freedom on this, one of the biggest issues facing the world, then what is the point of its existence?