“I’m a woman, I’ve got pink hair… I’m fat,” she said. “I’ve had a huge of harassment starting in April last year. I’ve had death threats, I get these regularly, I’ve got several cases open with the police about people, people questioning my expertise, so I’ve had this all the time.”
Speaking shortly after National leader Judith Collins had called her a “big fat hypocrite” for cycling 5km to a beach during Auckland’s level 3 lockdown, Wiles said she got particularly upset when “people in positions of power are trying to attack my credibility.
“That’s really counter-productive when what I’m trying to do is get people to understand why we need to behave collectively and why we all need to vaccinate if we can in order to move away from using lockdown level 4.”
Wiles said what she tried to focus on was helping New Zealand understand what it was facing, and “as we move into the future, how we get out of this”.
“The research is really clear that those communities that come together in disasters… are the ones that come through it the best.”
She decided early to always “give off an air of calmness” no matter how panicked she felt, and advise people to look after each other. “The research is really clear that those communities that come together in disasters… are the ones that come through it the best.”
Vaccination, she said, was one of the most important tools available.
She said in the United Kingdom, where her parents live, people have lived under lockdown for 18 months – something New Zealanders might find hard to conceive.
“Yes, it’s frustrating and this is really hard. But the alternative is saying goodbye to people we love that we don’t have to say goodbye to, and putting people at risk of serious health impacts that we don’t have to.”
Knocking New Zealand
Many critics wanted to knock New Zealand down for its approach. “You have to remember, we have been immensely successful. And if we continue to be successful, it will show that other countries could have made different decisions, and that is really hard and there are lots of people who want to see us fail.”
Wiles said not everyone was in the same waka – “some people have luxury yachts…
“But we’re all in the same seas and what we need to make sure is that everybody is on a boat that’s safe, and that we get to the right place.”
Also on the panel, Te Rūnanga Te Tai Tokerau student representative Chantelle Thompson spoke about the challenges of studying through a pandemic, captured in NZNO research earlier this year.
“If we were at home with family, with children, trying to concentrate, trying to find motivation, trying to find a space of quiet and peace to concentrate – to do that was very difficult.”
Co-chair of Nursing Education in the Tertiary Sector (NETS) Clare Buckley described the challenges for educators of trying to keep nursing programmes going during a lockdown while caring for their own families.
“The educators were responsible for educating the student nurses but also educating their own children.”
Schools sent “thousands” of laptops and internet bundles for students, and tried to reduce stress as much as possible by recording lectures for students to watch at a time that suited them. But the ingenuity of students “fills me with such joy because I know what brilliant nurses they’re going to be”.