Notwithstanding some recent attention that “flights from India” bringing returning Kiwis back home has received in the mainstream media, the total number of cases imported from India remains less than half of such cases arriving from countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

The figures revealed by the Ministry of Health has confirmed that on the list determining the source of origin of all Covid cases arriving in New Zealand from overseas, India remained at a distant third behind the United Kingdom and the United States who were ahead with double the numbers so far imported on flights from India.

India was positioned at a distant third place with the only total of 65 cases, behind the United Kingdom and the United States with 136 & 130 respectively as the countries of origin from where returning Kiwis have boarded on the flights back home.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Massey University

Responding to a query of the Indian Weekender, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said, “As of 9 am, October 2, 2020, there were a total of 723 cases of COVID-19 identified as imported cases, with a total of 78 countries identified as countries of origin. Of these, 10 cases have no country of origin information.”

Notably, India was followed by Australia (41) and Canada (23) as the country of origin from where Covid-infected travellers have arrived in New Zealand.

Race Relation Commissioner Meng Foon

Explaining further about what constitutes as “imported cases” the Ministry of Health spokesperson said, “Imported cases are defined as a person being outside of New Zealand in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms.

“The country of origin is defined as the first country a case took on their journey to New Zealand. For example, if a case travelled from the USA to New Zealand via Australia, USA is the listed country of origin,” the spokesperson said.

Exercising caution on the manner of reporting around countries of origin from where Covid-19 infected cases have arrived, the spokesperson further added, “It is also important to note that the country of origin is a destination and does not necessarily reflect the ethnicity of the person that has travelled from that country,” spokesperson said.

“Since the first imported case in late February, more than 70 per cent of cases - 515 people – have arrived from 10 countries of origin, and these countries are – UK, US, India, England, Australia, Canada, France Philippines, Ireland and Italy,” the spokesperson said. 

Discomfort over “selective reporting” in mainstream media about imported cases and countries of origin

There has been a quiet, yet palpable discomfort among the various sections of Indian-New Zealanders, with the recent mainstream reporting in the number of cases arriving from India, especially in two flights on August 23 & 27 that seemed to portray the burgeoning number of cases in India as detrimental in some way to inward travel to NZ.

While most of the mainstream media reports emphasised on the number of cases in the two flights, thereby affirming a negative public perception, what it failed to report simultaneously was the fact that despite the recent surge of Covid cases in those two flights, the total number of such imported cased arriving from India was no way nearer to the leading two destinations UK & US which leads as the source destination of imported cases.

Such mainstream media reporting also failed to report that almost all of the inward travellers on the “flights from India” are Kiwi-Indians, who are returning home, like all other Kiwis from other parts of the world, including Australia, North America and Europe and deserve to return home without any unnecessary vilifying – real or perceived.Race Relation Commissioner Meng Foon has criticised such selective reporting around coronavirus which can potentially vilify any race or ethnicity.

Speaking to the Indian Weekender Foon said, “The media should not report on COVID-19 in a manner that vilifies any race or ethnicity as the reason for the disease. It’s the virus that is the problem, not the people. We should be kind and considerate in not blaming or creating a perception that blames particular ethnicities as the problem.”

Foon also emphasised the need to hold media-reporting to account and said, “Generally, media should not report things in a way that is discriminatory. This would include reporting on the source of flights from countries like India and China in a way that is different to the way that they report on flights from countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, France, and Germany.”

A case of “unconscious bias” within mainstream media on issues related to ethnic minorities

Noted expert and academician Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University was also critical of the often missing “contextualisation” from media-reporting on stories around “flights from India” that can cause some concerns within such ethnic migrant minority communities.

Speaking to the Indian Weekender Spoonley said, “In one sense, I do not have any problem with media reporting that a particular flight has produced some cases in managed isolation. But this needs to be put balanced by reporting where the majority of cases come from India is responsible for less than 10% of cases. The major source countries are the UK/England (38.9%) and USA (25.7%).”

Spoonley was referring to data based on the number of imported Covid cases till September 10, as available on Ministry of Health (MOH) website and also quoted in a report published by www.stuff.co.nz on September 27. The Indian Weekender has since then contacted the MOH, and a spokesperson has responded with the latest numbers of Covid-imported cases, where the numbers have bumped, particularly both UK & US having the almost same number of imported cases.

Data provided by Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade valid up to 10 September 2020

Meanwhile, Spoonley further emphasised that contextualisation is important because it provides perspective and balance. One flight from India might be an issue. People coming from India are not.

He also concurred with the suggestion that such reporting highlights the “unconscious bias” within mainstream institutions that often reflected a siloed vision of New Zealand’s changing demography and the world.

“At times, the media can be criticised for explicit bias and even racism. In this case, I think it is likely to be unconscious bias as the journalists do not think through the consequences of simply repeating the phrase “Air India” flight, and they do not provide information on where incoming COVID-19 cases are much more likely come from. It is incomplete reporting and contextualisation,” Spoonley said.

More importantly, what these mainstream-media reports have also innocuously ignored to report that those “flights from India” have been bringing Kiwis (citizens and residents) back home after having been stranded overseas for several months, in the absence of any commercial air travel or any government-supported repatriation flights.