Quick on the Uptake

In total, 27 people have died from the Covid virus in Aotearoa. (Wikipedia)

All photos have been taken by me and are of our garden in spring (flowers, trees) and environs (rainbow above Musselburgh Rise and oyster catchers on Andersons Bay inlet at low tide).

In this country since June 2020, we have experienced large spaces of COVID-free times when we have been able to attend gatherings and events and carry on living a normal life, albeit with Level 1 restrictions – mainly involving ones on overseas travel, both in and out. It felt as if Aotearoa New Zealand was acting as some kind of ark.

But there has been a fair amount of yo-yo-ing between levels; it hasn’t all been pavlova paradise smooth sailing. Levels have moved up a couple or three times. My appointment diary tells its own story of a plethora of events or plans cancelled and / or postponed after a case of COVID had been detected in the community, with all the necessary precautions following on.

Frustration levels have been high. Compromises have had to be made in all sectors of society. The ripple effects are massive and ongoing. And not all stories have been heard – or told. The national news is on every night (a choice of three or four channels delivering) but they truly only touch the surface – they can only reflect or report part of the picture – and even then it can feel laced with a journalistic choice of angles, drama, hyperbole or bias.

I count it a privilege to have a prime minister who, along with health experts, gives me regular, informative, scientific, sensible reports and reassurances – daily ones during times when precautionary measures need to be put in place. It does much to alleviate anxiety. It generates a safe and sorted feel to the way we as a country are handling this worldwide pandemic. There is a team-like aspect to it; ‘We are a team of five million’ has been accepted as a slogan. A ‘we can do this guys’ tempo has been set. A feeling that we are all in this together. (Not forgetting our ‘team of one million’ overseas. More on that later.)

On August 17th, our government announced a move to lockdown (Level 4) for the whole country after a community case of COVID (later identified as the Delta Variant of COVID-19) was detected in our biggest city Tāmaki Makau Rau Auckland. This was a community case, which is different to any cases in the country’s managed isolation facilities. The lockdown (Level 4) was announced at 6.00 p.m. effective from midnight that very night. Although, anyone away from home was allowed 48 hours to get home.

It is still unclear how this one community case contracted COVID. It cannot be traced back to any managed isolation facility at the border, so remains a mystery and like any good mystery, exercises the highest qualified minds. Even Jacinda Ardern our Prime Minister, who in her spare time (if indeed she has any) tries to come up with likely scenarios to put before the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Vaccinations are being vigorously encouraged, as well as testing. It has puzzled me why the vaccination process in our country has been so slow. I found this Newsroom article by Marc Daalder @marcdaalder which certainly made it clearer for me. I was able to accept the reasons outlined as a plausible (if frustrating) reason for the slow roll out. This is a quote from the Newsroom article:

But so long as the Government keeps mum on the details of the supply agreements, it will have to remain just a theory. Any effort to hold the Government accountable for the slow rollout is hampered by this lack of transparency.

In the end, if the confidential contracts remain confidential, we may never know why New Zealand has lagged behind most of the developed world in receiving vaccines.

Then along came September and spring, bearing blossoming plants and a pleasing drop in numbers of COVID cases detected in Tāmaki Makau Rau Auckland and in our capital city, Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington – and still none picked up in Te Waipounamu South Island. That meant that those of us in Aotearoa, outside of Auckland, Northland and Wellington, were able to drop down a level to Level 3. At this level, orders are able to be made and picked up from outside cafes, but libraries, schools, church or hairdressers etc. are not able to open.

Later, as there were still no cases picked up in the Te Waipounamu South Island, and other places outside of Auckland, we were able to move down a level to Level 2. We were free! Kind of. But so far, still not Auckland, who (bless ’em) are still weathering it out at Level 4 for a few more days, after which they may be able to go down to Level 3.

This Level 2 is different from last time we experienced life at this level (about a year ago) because this time we are dealing with the more aggressive Delta Variant of COVID. There are more restrictions and more wariness / weariness. More precautions. We know from overseas experiences not to relax, just yet. If ever?

We have had to get used to wearing masks almost everywhere. It is now a strict requirement for indoor venues (apart from schools and of course while eating or drinking in cafes and bars).

Not everyone is taking kindly to this – one or two angry people have reacted like two-year olds throwing a tantrum or acting like a cantankerous miscreant. There was one case reported during lockdown of someone spitting on a security guard. And someone on Twitter tweeted that someone biking past had hurled abuse at them because they were wearing a mask. (But as someone else pointed out in the comments, these people may not be well.)

But most of us Kiwis happily comply without much fuss. Generally speaking we tend to smile at each other (some of us from behind our masks where the eyes have it) as we pass each other on a walk, for example. Although, side note, I am a bit of an unsocial rebel, preferring to keep my head down rather than make eye contact and attempt some kind of greeting. I guess it largely depends on my mood. Agh. What a grump. My bad. On the whole, we are all just getting on with it; doing what’s needed.

By all accounts, all of Te Waipounamu South Island is free of COVID. However, no room for complacency for this team of five million. We are wary. The Delta Variant is highly contagious. And let’s not forget the other main reason – apart from the obvious one of preventing deaths – for wanting to *eliminate COVID. It is also to prevent overwhelming medical resources and hospital wards. If that happened, the repercussions would be catastrophic and endless.

*Note: Just as in other countries, we in Aotearoa have a percentage of people who want to open borders and adopt the herd immunity approach.

Because I am not part of governmental policies or even interested in them all that much (again, my bad) this has to be a guess -: that any COVID-free breathing space our country can maintain, will enable all of the stuff needed to cope with the (I hazard a guess) eventual inevitable presence of COVID in our country, to be built or manufactured. Much like Taiwan’s response after their experience with SARS in 2003.

And while on that – does that mean that those in charge on planet earth had almost twenty years at their disposal to take a leaf from Taiwan and also prepare for the inevitable worldwide pandemic, as predicted by scientists? Well I guess we can add that to a copy book that has already been irreparably blotted by failures, inadequate and dismal attempts, or lack of, to offset and cure our broken and damaged planet.

As for this present (August -September 2021) outbreak of the Delta Variant, here in Aotearoa, the number of people in Te Ika Mauai North Island that were infected with COVID is now close to 1,000. Therefore the sudden and swift precautions that our govt. slapped in place after learning of one case in the community, was clearly necessary. Thankfully, the numbers of new community cases have now started to go down. Today (Thursday 9th September) there were only 11 new cases. Yesterday there were 13.

This is fingers-crossed territory and it looks like Tāmaki Makau Rau Auckland, our major city, will soon be able to leave Level 4 and maybe after a bit of time in Level 3, start to join the rest of the country in Level 2. At Level 2, cafes, hairdressers, schools, libraries etc are open, with the added requirements of masks, tests, scanning and social distancing still in place, countrywide.

I kept appointments with my dentist and hairdresser as soon as we went into Level 2. I went grocery shopping with my husband last night and although things are done a little differently now – we each had to have a trolley, for example – and things are carried out more slowly, more carefully, it’s still all very do-able and safe even if it does feel like we are all in a Philip K Dick novel.

To think that these preventative and precautionary measures were instigated by Cabinet after one COVID case was detected in Auckland, does seem crazy. The rest of the world, or so it has been reported, laughed at this. One? One case? In the whole of the country? After hearing this, it made one London taxi driver laugh and not stop until they’d reached their fare’s destination. (This report is from a tweet on my twitter feed). They – even Australians who should know better (or maybe not) – cannot believe the response of our government and are seemingly aghast at its swift call for lockdown; from just one case.

However, one of my readers in the UK did have this to say – So sorry to learn you guys have to endure a lockdown, but all Kiwis should take pride in the way their country has dealt with the pandemic. You guys have done a phenomenal job, and here in the UK (another island nation, where it should be possible to keep the virus at bay!) we look on in awe at what you’ve achieved.

We’d witnessed what had happened in some Australian states (and in other countries) and we didn’t want to let things get out of control like that, simply for the reasons I outlined earlier: deaths and an untenable strain on hospitals trying to deal with COVID patients.

Sadly there are small businesses in this country who have been unable to weather the yo-yo effect. Many have gone under. Many have lost jobs. They do get govt. assistance, but it isn’t enough. Food banks have been over-run by requests for aid, and yet, in a cruel ironic twist, where there is no organised re-distribution set in place, produce has gone to waste. There are holes in the system, people struggle. Mostly I believe, they get picked up, helped. But we need to keep looking out for each other.

And isn’t it what we do in this country? Some of us. Most of us? Help others. Although, myself included, we are still learning how to do this effectively. Learning how to reach out from where we are at, to where someone else is at. We can’t, for example, just roll up from our own situation (whatever that is) and expect others who live life from a very different perspective to automatically feel supported and helped. And vice versa. Balance in all things. Equality.

There are also the emotional effects of lockdown – and of the yo-yo-ing. Not everyone can cope with the un-natural aspects of lockdown, or the unpredictability and potential explosion of future plans. There are those who are on their own, not coping and for whom being shut in is added stress. Some of these people simply don’t survive. This is devastating. Tragic.

Who knows what’s ahead? My heart breaks for Kiwis overseas who want to come home. But can’t. We have family members and friends in this situation (as do most). It’s awful. Because of social media and videos, we can see them and hear them, but not touch. No hugs. We catch up, keep up, but only through a screen. Too remote. It’s not human enough. Too much like science fiction, and not near normal enough. Pretending to share a biscuit in Aotearoa with a grandchild in Berlin, Germany is losing its gloss. Apart from petitioning the govt. to make the way back for returning Kiwis an easier process, it feels like we’re helpless to do anything else about hastening the return of this other team – the ‘team of one million’. We want them to be able to come back. We miss them.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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