N.Z. in lock down: DAY 35

Yesterday was DAY 35 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Human behaviour must at times to an alien seem completely confounding. Here we are at LEVEL 3, which for most New Zealanders is basically LEVEL 3.5 – aside from a few changes, lock down continues like it has for the past five weeks. Because of that New Zealanders should still be observing two metres distance and maintaining a bubble. They should

Yet, on Tuesday morning, having seemingly completely forgotten or deliberately ignoring the rules, there were about 40 people outside a Burger Fuel store in Auckland. Heaven forbid anyone of them was meant to be in isolation, because potentially if one person was infected and passed it on to 6-10 people, suddenly 60-100 people might be infected and then 600-1,000. Given that New Zealand has so far lost 19 people to COVID19 and had 1470 or so cases, 600-1,000 new infections would put dozens in hospital and kill maybe another 10-13 people based on current numbers.

Suddenly we are back on LEVEL 4 lock down. Suddenly we have been made to watch weeks of collective hard work get vapourized just like that – all because a bunch of idiots could not or would not follow the rules. Yet, the vast majority of others who went out to get their first fast foods in weeks or coffees from their favourite barista, had no trouble being compliant.

It is not just random bunches of people who have forgotten. Politicians have too: A.C.T. Leader David Seymour wants to reopen the New Zealand border as soon as possible to international travel. All this in a week where – with the exception of our Polynesian neighbours and Australia – most of the countries nearest and dearest to New Zealand are by no means in control of their respective COVID19 outbreaks.

Now, I really should not be surprised Mr Seymour wants to reopen the border again. As the leader of a party that espouses small government and liberty it is totally in his political remit to be doing this. What seems to be missing though in Mr Seymour’s case, is a reading of the general sentiment around why we have been having lock down and what we hope to get out of it. Or maybe he simply thinks he knows better than the vast majority of New Zealanders who want COVID19 dead and gone once and for all – myself and my family included.

And then there are people like Dr Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at University of Auckland. Dr Thornley believes that the entire lock down is unnecessary and that we should be coming out of it much faster than we are. Dr Thornley appears to intone that its okay if people with complications from other medical issues die, because they “were going to die anyway”.

I suspect Dr Thornley’s academic reputation has probably taken a bit of a hit with such an attitude. Very probably no one in the medical profession wants to see avoidable deaths happening. It also completely misses why New Zealand went into lock down in the first place: in the worst case scenario, 80,000 New Zealanders were potentially going to die and entire communities were going to be potentially devastated by COVID19. The 0.1% or so that might die might seem like a very low statistic. But that would still be 80 people. Potentially 80 separate families losing a loved one.

You cannot ever tell the family of a deceased loved one that their loved one fell within some sort of statistical margin that was somehow acceptable. Dr Thornley and others proposing a rapid reopening of New Zealand would do well to remember that.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 34

Yesterday was DAY 34 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday was also DAY 1 of what I – and New Zealand – HOPE is only 14 days in LEVEL 3 lock down. Past articles have already explained LEVEL 3 compared to LEVEL 4, so I will not dwell on it here.

My parents and I celebrated the end of LEVEL 4 today with a lunch of eggs, hash browns, tomatoes and bacon cooked on the barbecue. During those 33 days for a lot of people it would have been a good family bonding exercise over learning how to work with each other, finding creative and stimulating things to do.

Going out for my daily walk this afternoon I was struck by the sheer volume of traffic on Harewood Road. Surely it cannot all have been compliant with LEVEL 3 restrictions, which enabled bubbles to bring in one or two extra family members. Surely it could not have all been going to McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King or other places serving fast food, though I was reliably informed by friends that there were queues in some cases starting before 4AM of people wanting to be the first to get a fast food fix into them.

At our place my father laid into a list a of do it yourself tasks around the house, including deferred maintenance – some of which had been on the cards for decades! – which he is feeling quite pleased about. The greater sense of accomplishment may however come when a significant portion of our cobble footpath is relevelled and re-aligned for safety reasons, for which he intends on enlisting the author’s help. With no prospect of work for a few more weeks at least, it will help to ease the boredom that will eventually start to creep in.

For some families the test of COVID19 would have been a fatal blow to relationships and marriages. An article from the United Kingdom that I read told of one particularly sad case where a man’s wife moved out during week 2 of their lock down, leaving him to deal with two energetic teenage boys. In other instances mentioned on social media couples have had huge blow ups in front of their kids, and although in some cases they appear to have immediately regretted it, the damage might be terminal.

But the worst for me has been getting regular updates from an Aunty in Southland whose husband has worsening dementia and is pretty much bed ridden in a secure unit. Because of lock down she has not been able to see him and nor have his adult children.


N.Z. in lock down: DAY 33

Yesterday was DAY 33 of lock down as New Zealand fights the COVID19 pandemic.

LEVEL 4 ended at 2359 hours on Monday. LEVEL 3 began at 0000 hours this morning. For the vast majority of New Zealanders, aside from being able to enjoy takeaway meals and coffees from ones favourite outlets, little has changed other than the following:

  • Tradies can return to work, but tools will need to be washed twice daily
  • Activities within your region are permitted, but the closer to home the better
  • Schools can reopen up to Year 10 (children under 14 must be supervised)

This is something from which the recovery will be tedious and unlike anything anything in the memory of the vast majority of New Zealanders. To the chagrin of millions of people. It will test the patience of decision makers, the authorities and the public. It will test them in ways they had not thought possible.

The civil libertarians, whose eternal distrust of Government renders them permanently suspicious of the establishment, will be looking for ways to get around a set of cumbersome, odious and yet essential rules. There may be a few inspired by protests in Germany and the United States who think they are making a stand for their country, but are only making a stand for their misguided beliefs.

The mainstream will be happy to comply with rules if they are sure it will get the virus gone. The authorities will be wanting to be as close to 100% certain as they can, that the virus has been defeated before they openly support seriously relaxed rules; the Police aware that the potential for non-compliance will increase in inverse portion to public patience.

The decision makers, having the decisions will want to be sure that they were a) the right decisions and b) will stand up to the scrutiny of any inquiry or review that happens later. For those like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, their legacy and how well their policies survive into the future will depend in large part on how they handle the recovery from COVID19.

I hope we are compliant as a nation – like everyone I want the virus to be decisively defeated. But when the war on COVID19 is inevitably drawn to a close, the Government is going to have a difficult balancing act between systematically denying the virus the prospect of Round 2 and getting as much of the country back to work, back to having a life as quickly as possible. There will also be challenges on the side that need to be dealt with, such as privacy concerns over the new application that the Government is working on – who will store the data; what rules will there be around sharing; what security will there be to stop hacking or data misuse among other concerns.

In some respects it will be like walking along the narrow ridge between potential pits (COVID19 resurgence, all the while wanting to dodge crumbling cliffs (public compliance) and not knowing how long New Zealand can maintain this delicate act without seriously hurting itself.

And all the while remembering there is an election in September.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 30

Yesterday was DAY 30 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Instead of writing today, I thought I would do a bit of a photo essay so that you can see the effects of lock down through the eyes of a local.

Empty roads have become a distinct feature of my walks around Christchurch in the last few weeks. Completely devoid of traffic, the quiet has been quite startling to take in. The road in the photograph is Fendalton Road at the railway crossing. Normally at 4PM on a Friday, the traffic would be picking up as the working week comes to an end, but on this particular Friday I was able to walk straight onto the traffic island without stopping and no cars came from either direction for more than 2 minutes. Normally the cycle way next to the railway line would be busy with students heading home from school after extra curricular activities, people cycling home from work, people like me out for exercise or on their way to somewhere. It too, was largely devoid of traffic except for families with young children taking their kids out of the house for an hour.

When LEVEL 3 was declared playgrounds across the country were emptied. Local councils put tape across all features – see-saws, slides, swings, fortresses, flying foxes, skating rinks and other features. Lawns have become long and and resemble an unkempt state. At LEVEL 4, parks were completely deserted except for people exercising whilst observing strict social distancing. When the country goes back to LEVEL 3 at the end of Monday, these facilities will still be off limits for another two weeks at least.

In a moment of dystopian thinking this kind of reminded me of the television series Chernobyl, and the sudden abandonment that the city of Pripyat would have experienced. No one able to play on the swings, the slides, the see-saws or merry-go-rounds anymore. None of the useful laughter and happy playing that you’d expect from a child. COVID19 measures might be only temporary, but when you think about the potential transmission of the virus, the playground had a slight Chernobyl-esque look to it.

Today is A.N.Z.A.C. Day, the 105th Anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landing in France. Normally A.N.Z.A.C. Day is marked by dawn services the length and breadth of the country, ranging from thousands of people attending services in the large cities, to a few hundred attending smaller community services in rural towns. Despite the COVID19 restrictions, on line services, and a “Stand at Dawn” service for those who want to stand at the end of their driveway was held at 6AM. I have included two photos here. The first is of chalk and paper drawings of the famous red poppy done presumably by children as an out door activity.

The second is of poppies that were most probably ordered on line. Note also, the bear next to the lower ones. This was part of an spotting activity that was started for children, but also drew in a lot of adults. The idea was if one had any fluffy bear toys, they displayed them in the window or other prominent place where children and their parents could see them.

And finally, this is a nod to the children whose fun has been put on hold for a few weeks now, and the parents who have had to get creative to find things to keep their children happy. Chalk drawings have been prolific on every walk, with the messages, drawings and their meaning only restricted by the children’s imagination.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 23

Yesterday was DAY 23 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Thus far in the unprecedented situation New Zealand has found itself, the country has performed brilliantly in terms of compliance with shut down regulations. On Monday the country will make a choice about whether to stay at LEVEL 4 or go to LEVEL 3.

LEVEL 3 as far as I can tell is basically LEVEL 4 lite or LEVEL 3.5:

  • No hair dressers will open
  • Most retail shops will stay shut
  • Tradies will be able to go back to work
  • Public playgrounds will still be off limits
  • Early childhood can reopen

For me there are no concessions made at LEVEL 3. I will still have no work. In terms of things I do outside of work, I will not be able to do any except go for walks.

But I feel sorry for those who have had deaths in their family and were hoping that LEVEL 3 would be kind enough to let them have a funeral/tangi – with a limit of 10 people, I cannot imagine the final opportunity to hold a service for a loved one will be taken up by any families in that time. One or two weddings might go ahead, with less formal celebrations for the 90% of guests who had to be cut out held later, but I suspect just because the wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of a person’s life and most will want their best friends and family there, a 10 person limit will almost be a disincentive.

I doubt very much early childhood education centres will want to reopen. Tots put things in their mouths by default, drop things like drinks and food on the floor. The only COVID19 proof way of ensuring they are safe is probably to simply not open since they will not be able to play.

The same article in The Press, briefly outlined what LEVEL 2 would look like, and it is basically a LEVEL 3 lite, like a LEVEL 2.5. A person working in the hospitality sector must be thinking that their industry will be the last taxi off the rank. For a number of my friends, this will hurt a lot. I suspect at least some of them will be jobless before their employers can fully reopen.

I give New Zealand 6 weeks all up before non-compliance with lock down starts to become a major issue. After that some basic, hard tests are going seriously challenge the authorities in the coming weeks, namely:

  • How long will people continue to observe social distancing – at the moment whilst cases and deaths are still happening it is understandable, but when we get to the point where the last new case was several days ago and the number of recovered patients is rapidly closing on the total cases, surely significant easing will happen
  • The number of people wanting to go to check on secondary properties will increase steadily the longer it takes to get to LEVEL 2 and there will be an associated surge in people who are prepared to run the risk
  • There will be a surge in people who are prepared to go out and partake in activities that are not permitted – those who are on farms with significant bush nearby will be wanting to go bush; cyclists will start cycling in groups again

This is the sad reality of the world that we live in. It is made worse by the fact that if we are the first to eliminate COVID19, we will still have to keep the border fully closed for probably the rest of 2020, whilst we wait for other nations who did not go in hard and early to catch up.

I admire the work of this Government thus far. They have done a fantastic job with no blue print on how to govern a country in a pandemic. There has been a few idiots deliberately challenging the authorities and a few naysayers with dollar signs for eye pupils, but the very vast majority of New Zealanders have complied. If there is a steady, progressive winding down of the restrictions that will be a massive achievement. But if we drag it out too far, the real trouble is still over the horizon.