It’s been a little over seven weeks since NZ dropped to alert level one. What that means is that with the exception of our borders and a few sporadic cinemas, everything is open. We were praised by the world for a masterclass of elimination of COVID by our PM and our Director-General of Health. I jumped on board by snapping up tickets to a local rugby game atÂ Eden Park. It sold out – 43,000 fans. The first in a long time for our local Auckland Blues team. Being the most populous city in New Zealand we have some of the best talent, though like most large cities we tend to struggle with culture, bad patronage which typically leads to terrible results.
This time felt quite different. A Hercules flew low overhead trailing jet stream from each engine to the delight of the crowd. It felt like a celebration. A chance to break free from the self-made bubbles we’d all hidden inside for the previous five weeks. Had we broken them too early? Was this whole thing being turned into a global political PR exercise? The Blues won.
A week later we were being laughed at. Two British sisters returning from the UK to see a dying parent were turned loose nine days before isolation protocols dictated they should have been. All of sudden we had new cases. Global media were pretty quick to jump on the story. They talked of how we’d blown it and for a short period, it looked like we had. Shortfalls in security management, lax procedures at hotel quarantine centres punched deep holes in all of the tight controls our team of five million had been told were in place. The military was put in charge of security, dragging yesterdays heroes back to ground. Facebook lit up with outrage from everyone who’d exhausted their favourite Netflix series. Though our contact and cluster tracing held up. Nothing was transmitted at a community level. Closed borders remained our best defence. Order was restored.
The opposite has happened in Australia. Lax security, poor controls and training have meant that Victoria has been placed in lockdown for a second time with its neighbouring state, New South Wales now under threat and experiencing increasing cases of community transmission. Right now we feel blessed. COVID headlines have been replaced with political sex scandals which is a sure sign that the threat of COVID has dropped as a headline-grabbing priority. Mutiny from an opposition leader who lead a coup to success and has since dropped out of the election race 56 days later, has taken over the NZ Herald’s home page and has cast the National opposition into a scramble. We’ve been here before.Â
My family and I joined the school holiday throngs that ventured to the south island to do some skiing. With the winter season upon us here, we’re likely to be one of the few places in the world currently catching chairlifts. We had originally booked a trip to the south island pre-COVID. We cashed in credit with Air NZ who like most airlines were reluctant or just not able to issue refunds. Those with international trips planned had plenty of credit to use. Trips to Bali, to Fiji and other local island nations, were put on hold in favour of a domestic jaunt. We’re up at 6 am, on the road 30 minutes later and crawling up the side of the hill in the darkness behind kilometres of cars. It’s a spectacle to behold. Though no one’s complaining – you can’t, given where you are and what you’re doing. The sun rises and we’re above the clouds, in blue sunshine riding through power puffs of snow as the beauty of the region falls away below us.
I’ve never felt happier to be living out here, on the shaky isles. Yes, as a kid I lamented the fact that I was born so far from all the action, in what many international friends would remind me as being in the middle of nowhere. I join an online writing group once a week with the bulk of them living in the States. They couldn’t believe we were able to ski out here and I’d never felt more fortunate (and guilty), to be able to do it knowing what is happening globally. The question has to be, how long can all this go on for? With the second wave of infections taking the world by storm, the government’s wage subsidy extensions due to be cut off Sept 1st, there will be a lot of business and workers worried about their immediate future. The best we can do right now is dig in.