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Last week, Auckland couple William Willis (35) and Hannah Rawnsley (26) escaped lockdown and flew to a holiday home in Wanaka, prompting outrage on social media.
University of Otago department of psychological medicine senior lecturer Dr Chris Gale said people under stress did silly things and those in Auckland were under ‘‘a huge amount of stress’’.
While it was important the actions of the couple were not condoned, they had become scapegoats for disproportionate cruelty, including death threats, he said.
Positive reinforcement worked better than punishment, so people should be concerned with supporting those who had broken the rules to do better.
The public should be thanking the couple for owning up to their mistakes instead of vilifying them, he said.
Most people would forget about the couple within a week and a new target would come up for people to direct their anger towards.
Part of the anger towards the couple came from a ‘‘prolonged campaign of fear’’ from the Government and the media over Covid-19.
‘‘Everybody is being told over and over that they should be scared,’’ Dr Gale said.
People were being told if they followed the rules then New Zealand could stop the virus, but it was not as simple as that.
The emotive nature painted the picture that if people broke the rules they were ‘‘evil’’, he said.
Social media fed into those feelings and drove people away from caring for others.
Most people would have broken the rules in some way, whether it was talking to a struggling neighbour or visiting an elderly family member in need.
Breaking the rules to help someone could in some cases be the right thing to do, he said.
‘‘There’s more to life than Covid and there’s more to life than these rules.’’
The Ministry of Health was ‘‘incredibly controlling’’ and should stop trying to micro-manage people’s lives with constantly shifting strict rules, he said.
New Zealand should be adaptable as the current lockdown conditions were not sustainable in the long term as people would continue to break them.
‘‘At the end of all of this nobody is going to remember how compliant you were with the rules, but your neighbours are going to remember how much you cared for them.’’