Danger de mort

Today is Sunday May 3rd.  Kia ora katoa! Kia kaha!

This morning, the weather is horrid. I go outside to pick up the newspaper, and it is windy (unusual for our house, we’re usually quite sheltered), and raining quite heavily. So one cocoons, guilt-free, inside.

When this crisis began, when we first started to regard this novel coronavirus seriously (remember when none of us had heard of Wuhan?), after the virus came to New Zealand and seemed to be rapidly spinning out of control, there was a favourite saying, that “we are all in this together”.

Yesterday I wrote about the strangely seductive beauty of the novel coronavirus as pictured. It is hard to believe that something so beautiful could be so harmful, setting out, as it does, to wreak havoc on humanity. It reminds me how innocuous, how tempting evil can be; in the Garden of Eden, it was a good apple from a good tree that Eve was invited to eat. Many things have both good and bad inherent in them. That’s why we need to discriminate, to choose the good and abandon the evil. Who would deny that there are positive and negative aspects to the Internet? If there is any good and safe usage of nuclear power, I have yet to learn about it, but there is a certain beauty in splitting the atom. Who could have known it would unleash such power, and such potential destructiveness?

Sadly, it transpires that it is by no means the case that “We are all in this together”.  Certainly, the virus infects anyone, and doesn’t respect state or geographic borders as it makes its way around the world. But some of us are in a much better position to practise what has come to be known as “social distancing”, and some of us have far better health-care systems. Some people have safer workplaces, where their employers take care to ensure that their valued staff work in humane, clean conditions, with the appropriate level of protective equipment, wherever they work. Some governments care about their citizens’ lives and health more than they care about money.

Some of us live in comfortable, warm homes, with enough to eat, a good electricity supply, sound leadership by our government, and in a strong civilised society, where people’s basic needs are taken care of, and no one should go hungry, and the powers-that-be respect scientific thought and care about the environment. While we moan and groan about our deprivations, we are being asked to stay at home and watch television. What could be harder than that?  I realise that while some suffer financial hardship, and some go “stir crazy”, and there are valid concerns about mental health, we are very well off here, in so many ways. For once, being far away at the bottom of the world, seems like an advantage. There is concern about Jacinda Ardern’s popularity. Terms like “hero worship” have been used. I think we (and our children) are just so relieved to be here, and to be relatively safe, having a government that cares about its people, all of them.

It has transpired that most (but not all) of the infections, and subsequent deaths from Covid 19 have arisen from a lack of social distancing.  This virus is extremely infectious, and, so far, extremely efficient in finding hosts in which to burrow and do its damnedest. When it was first so prevalent, we immediately became suspicious of all social surroundings, and shops and cinemas rushed to tell us about their superior cleaning efforts, inviting us to maintain distance between ourselves and others. First, it was remember to wash your hands, properly: never bad advice. Then, the advice was not to embrace loved ones, or even shake hands – I liked the Japanese “namaste” which involved bowing to someone, but not touching them. Then we were asked to maintain a supposed safe distance between oneself and others – two metres, or six feet, in the US. Oh, and if you must fly, wipe your tray table with disinfectant; perhaps your seat too. Keep the middle seat on an aeroplane empty. If you had been in contact with someone who might be infectious, such as a traveller from overseas, you were supposed to “self-isolate” for first 7, then 14 days.

It rapidly became impossible to buy hand sanitiser, or masks, in New Zealand. But the figures kept rising. I still remember our collective horror when a friend told me on March 23 that diagnosed cases in New Zealand had reached 102!

We would normally have hugged each other, but even then we kept a safe distance apart. There was a real sense of fear and panic, that despite faith, we needed to do something to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially those more vulnerable, like my daughter.  Although there have been several epidemics, this is the first major one to affect New Zealanders so badly in our lifetime, and to have a major impact on the local, and the world’s, people and economies. It is not a war, in the sense of being at war with another nation, or fighting to support an ally who has been attacked. However the imposition of wartime restrictions is, I think, a useful way to regard some of our present “impositions”.  The ban on having funerals has, I think, been extremely difficult.

The government had been toying with various regulations. They banned travel from overseas unless you were a New Zealander returning home; they introduced 5 levels of response for schools; Chinese students were refused entry (Victoria University of Wellington thought this was madness), and they introduced 4 levels of Covid response for the country.  They announced that people over 70 years’ old, or with compromised immune systems, or existing health conditions, shouldn’t go out at all. Bus drivers over 70 were to be withdrawn from Metlink rosters – I think there were about 50 in Wellington. All this time I was recalculating every day just what I could still do. Council facilities like pools and libraries were being closed.  Everyday brought new restrictions, and scepticism from people who thought this was an over-reaction.  But fear turned from asking What can I still do? to regarding everyone as a potential carrier, as infections continued to rise, seemingly from anywhere.

Then the axe fell, and the government announced a level 4 lockdown to go into effect within a couple of days. No takeaways at all! We had some Chinese Fried Rice while we still could.  We also stocked up on goods that would keep well (like tinned food and dare I say it, toilet paper – we experienced no shortage!). We exchanged notes with my husband’s wider family in Australia and beyond. We took photos of a shopping trip to our local supermarket, where I took the last trolley available, sanitiser had run out, and the queue to check-out went right back to the entrance to the store.  They did have shortages, and limited how much you could buy of popular items, but now there is plenty of hand sanitiser, and disinfectant and gloves are in short supply. There have always been some shoppers wearing masks.

This action was not unexpected, and although it was indeed severe, it was a relief in a way. I had chosen not to take part in my usual activities for 14 days after our son arrived from the UK; this was great hardship for me, but by the time the two weeks were up, they had all been cancelled or postponed. So that was that. Time’s up. Your bubble is yourself and your husband.  You (being under 70) can go out to buy food or medicine or go for a walk nearby, nothing else. That’s it.  But, as one was to realise, things could be far worse.

While this virus doesn’t discriminate over its hosts – virtually anyone will do – it is evident that some of us are at greater risk than others. It appears that people of colour are at greater risk, and dying in greater numbers, proportionally to their share of the population in the US and other places. Any institution where people live close together, or are in care, are vulnerable: rest homes, prisons, ships, any dormitories or migrant camps, and those in health and caring professions, for example, prison inmates don’t just get sick, the staff guarding them also get sick.  Meat processing plants are particularly vulnerable; as well as being significantly affected in the US, they have been affected in Ireland, and, we learnt today, in Victoria, Australia. In the US the president claims to be concerned about the food supply. I wonder if many are turning away from eating meat? I read this morning in the New York Times about 98 residents of a care home dying, and about the current insistence that people go back to work, as modern-day slavery, as I wrote about yesterday. People talk about it being a choice between your life, and your livelihood. No one should have to make that kind of choice.

There is a column in the Washington Post headed up “Trump and the GOP have a plan for governing during a pandemic – just don’t”.  Unfortunately, the richest man in the world has deemed that I cannot read this column. But my reaction would be that it would be easier if Trump and co. just didn’t govern. Instead he lies, makes false claims, sows chaos and disinformation, and co-opts his mates to receive huge bailouts while forcing low-paid people back to work. Where is the care or justice in that? Evidently he aims to replace an HHS watchdog who raised the alarm about severe shortages in hospitals. Meanwhile the issue of folk who are sick and dying is juxtaposed with that of armed protesters in Michigan, wanting “freedom” from their current impositions, and seeming not to give a toss about their fellow-citizens.

At 8 pm the figures for the US are 1.16 million infections, and 67,067 deaths. The figures for the UK are 182,000 infected and 28,131 deaths.  According to Dr John, there is still “a small window” to mitigate the worst effects of this pandemic. This sounds like the approach of climate change, whose effects, like those of the virus, are coming upon us at logarithmic speed.

Today, for the second day running, there is no 1 pm briefing. There are two  new cases of Covid 19, bringing the total to 1,487. There have been no further deaths.

This afternoon there is to be a stay-at-home “concert” by the NZSO at 4 pm, playing Beethoven, but due to technical difficulties, this has been deferred to 6:30 pm.

Today I am going to quote the opening lines of Milton’s great epic poem, Paradise Lost.  I think it is quite wonderful. It’s written in “blank verse”, that is, iambic pentameter, with five beats to the line. Shakespeare wrote all his plays in blank verse, too, and sometimes varied it with great skill.

Milton’s epic starts as follows (see below). It begins “in medias res”, in the middle of things, as is the classical epic tradition; he also calls on a Muse to help him – “Sing, heavenly muse…”. It’s placed firmly in the Judaeo-Christian tradition by mentioning “till one greater Man”, referring to the Lord Jesus, and invoking the record of the creation of the world in Genesis, with “In the beginning (the first words of the book of Genesis) how the Heavens and Earth rose out of Chaos”.

There are many classical allusions, but you don’t have to be a great classical scholar to appreciate this poem. Milton composed it after he became blind! Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, is also thought to have been blind. There are twelve books in Paradise Lost. In the first, Satan has been cast into Hell, into “darkness visible”.  There are claims that Milton’s Satan is quite an interesting character, but then he has to be a very beguiling one, as well as being able to change his appearance. The Serpent/Satan/Lucifer is always masculine. We are told the Serpent was more subtle than any other animal.

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,

Sing Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,

In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth

Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion Hill

Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed

Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence

Invoke thy aid to my adventurous Song,

That with no middle flight intends to soar

Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues

Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

At Hohepa every year at Christmastime they perform The Paradise Play (the story of the Fall), and The Shepherds’ Play (about Jesus’ birth). When I have been privileged to see them, I have been amazed at how much the residents there are involved in these plays and enjoy them. They form part of the rhythm of the year, and are timeless, like a child’s favourite story.

This afternoon there was to be a stay-at-home “concert” by the NZSO at 4 pm, playing Beethoven, but due to technical difficulties, this has been deferred to 6:30 pm.  It was worth waiting for. They played Beethoven’s Septet in E Flat Major, Opus 20, a chamber music piece. They played it in separate locations, but in time with each other. Well done, NZSO members!

That’s it for today. I have been meaning to write about what happens to democratic processes during an emergency. That’s still to come.

Nga mihi nui. Bye for now!

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