Covid-19 Journal – NZ Edition #1

I went cycling the other day. Probably further than I should have done. About twenty kilometres in all, though I was being sensible, sticking to within a five km radius of where I lived in Mt Eden, Auckland, NZ. Cornwall Park sits inside that circle. It’s a beautiful green park filled with sheep, cows, archery targets, paddocks and oversized trees. There’s an obelisk on top of it. It looks like a needlepoint from a distance with a silver metal plate stuck to its edge that shimmers when the sun is out. There used to be a lone pine tree up there that Bono once wrote about when a Kiwi roadie of his died. One Tree Hill was a pretty sweet homage though sadly, a Maori Activist attacked the tree with a chainsaw, now it’s just a hill.

Like the majority of the world, we’re in lockdown. We’ve just tripped over three weeks since Jacinda – our PM closed our borders, schools and KFC. Essential businesses, healthcare workers, supermarkets and the like remain open, the rest of us hide at home. It’s autumn here, which has followed on from a glorious summer with hardly any rain. We were one of the few nations that opted for the hard and fast rule of all-out elimination. We’re fortunate with our location. We share no borders, sit in a remote part of the world, far from the mass populations like Europe, the US and just far enough away from populous cities like Tokyo and Beijing.

We had the benefit of seeing other countries impacted before we acted. Watched as the number of cases grew in China then exploded in Italy followed closely by Spain. That said, we could have gone sooner. Ensured that all those who arrived were quarantined versus relying on those arriving to self-isolate. Tourism is a big part of our economic makeup. We play host to a tonne of backpackers and other international travellers that want to spend time at our beaches, climb our mountains, ski our snowfields, taste our regional wines. And so they should. I’ve travelled, saved hard to make it abroad and the last thing I wanted to do on arrival was stand still. Reports flooded in of backpackers in vans popping up in locations that they shouldn’t have been able to get to. Of tourists taking scenic flights having just arrived. Of pilots doing the good thing and flying directly to a police station to drop them off. Of backpacker parties. You had to feel for them, they’d been in lockdown two weeks before the rest of us, then they were told they’d be facing another four weeks along with the rest of the country.

I’m still doing circuits on my bike, passing a colourful array of teddy bears in windows, propped up to remind us all it’s bigger than each of us. The streets are all but deserted. The occasional essential worker drives past me, a non-essential worker and his partner are being questioned by police, two metres from their car window. A train of camper vans pass by. They’re being driven in from different locations and parked in the ASB Showgrounds alongside three hundred. I chat to security from across the road. It’s a quarantine centre. Makes sense, the hospital is across the way. I feel fortunate to have a house. Previously non-existent queues for food stretch around corners, while people hop from one foot to other timing themselves to get in and out.

This is a strange time we’re living in. I avoid the news, the number of probable cases, the number of total cases. The deaths. I slip and jump online. The media announce that there will be no more roadblocks for those driving under the influence. Why? Red cloth to a bull. I for one haven’t missed the helicopters flying overhead in the early hours of the morning, always torn between thinking about whether it’s a robbery or Jacinda on her way to the airport from Mechanics Bay. What are the robbers doing? Most of NZ, excluding those with empty bach’s (cottages for international readers), who drove through the night to arrive undetected, have stayed at home.

I listen to Russell Brand a bit. I like that guy. He’s smart. Yeah, there’s a tendency for him to rant, to use big words the majority of us have to look up to understand. I’ve always liked where his heart is at. Sure he’s been an idiot in a previous life which he’ll openly acknowledge – haven’t we all? He tends to come from a spiritual place. You can sense the excitement through him in his video posts on Facebook around the change that is happening now. He tempers it – as we all should, the effects of the pandemic have been devastating for many and will be for years to come. Though the silver lining in all of this if there is one, is the potential psychological shift in the way we think, the way we live, thought for what we can contribute to the world we inhabit in the future. How our priorities in the face of this global disaster might realign for the better. To live symbiotically.

We’re seeing skies that are clear, carbon emission readings being recorded as low as WWII, hearing about dolphins appearing in the channels of Venice, of Coyotes crossing the Golden Gate. It hasn’t been as dramatic for me here, though the skies are clear, the colours are richer, deeper and we’re getting Piwakawaka (Fantails), playing in our backyard. How happy must the fish in our harbours be?

We worry about the isolation we’ll endure by working remotely, contact being limited to social versus personal, though I doubt many people have felt so connected for awhile. To unite under a common cause. Neighbours are having drinks from across the road. The streets are empty, so you can talk. As a kid we’d play on them all day. It’s boom-time for Zoom. I hosted a book launch for my new novel the other day called The Security. It was great to connect with friends, new faces and share something new. I have a regular weekly catch up with close mates who haven’t sat in a room together for more than a decade. We drink, we chat. My wife does the same with her circle of friends.

I read a great piece from Julio Vincent Gambuto on Medium this morning. It’s about -˜Gaslighting.’ Defined, he quotes as -˜manipulation into doubting your own sanity.’ The thrust of his article amidst all this change was about having the old -˜normal’ forced back on to us through marketing and government. I agree it’s coming. Every country around the world will do whatever they can to kickstart their own country’s economy. The question we all need to ask ourselves is, do we want it? If not, what?