Bursting our Bubble

Today is Friday June 19th. Kia ora katoa.

It is one week since I last wrote for this blog.

Were we too blasé?  There was a wonderful cartoon in Wednesday morning’s paper. On Monday, we were “Feeling groovy”.  On Tuesday, “I’m never leaving the house again”. Our bubble had been burst with the addition of two newly diagnosed cases of Covid 19. These were two women, who had flown from England, via Doha and Brisbane, to Auckland, where they were quarantined, as all overseas visitors are expected to do; however, they had been granted an exemption from fulfilling their 14 days in quarantine to attend a funeral in Wellington. Accordingly, despite their long journey by air, they hopped in a car and drove to Wellington without using any facilities on the way. In Wellington, both had tested positive for Covid 19 and were in isolation on the property of another relation. The funeral they were to attend has been deferred. Apparently the relation had died sooner than expected. One of the women had a pre-existing condition (asthma) causing symptoms like those of Covid 19, which she put down to her condition.

This outcome, although probably not disastrous, evokes several questions.

  • Why were they allowed to get in a car and drive to Wellington?
  • Why didn’t they stop on the way to refuel, go to a bathroom, or have a snack?
  • Did they take a thermos of tea and a picnic?
  • If one woman had symptoms, why wasn’t she tested?
  • Why weren’t they tested before leaving Auckland?

It further transpires that 350 contacts are being followed up; that they did stop on the way, having been confused by Auckland’s motorway system and taking a wrong turn, thus heading north instead of south, and that they contacted the person who had lent them the car and called on them to get directions. It also seems that two people who had been granted exemption from quarantine to attend another funeral had not returned to quarantine as expected.

This is a wake-up call for the vaunted system for quarantining all travellers from overseas, except, it would seem, Air New Zealand staff.   At least overseas travellers are quarantined under government supervision, which is a move forward. But there are alarming stories about people in quarantine being moved to Christchurch. No further funeral exemptions are to be granted. The Prime Minister is frustrated, as indeed many of us are. It is disappointing that the one rule for Covid 19 still in place, to quarantine all travellers from overseas under government supervision, has been mismanaged.

Questions have been asked about the Avatar crew flying in, and mixing with other guests at their quarantine hotel in Wellington; it seems New Zealand cannot be too proud of itself just yet. A further case of a traveller has been diagnosed with Covid 19, bringing the total of active cases to three; what about the staff at these quarantine hotels? How much isolation is actually practised?  What about hotel cleaning, cooking, leisure and maintenance services?

The truth, as usual, is difficult to find. Dr Ashley Bloomfield projects calm and reassurance, and I want to be reassured, but this news is disconcerting, even for those of us who want to accept what we are given from Dr Ashley; the facts as they drift out are alarming and raise further questions. I want to avoid rumour, speculation, and “shout” radio, but this news has burst our security bubble. One hopes that it is a good “wake up” call, about the need for stringent procedures. After all, this virus is unrelenting, and countries overseas such as China have had to reimpose levels of lockdown. If this were a hoax, as some suggest, it has hurt a great many people and economies.

Some of the funeral exemption requests are very sad and very moving, but you have to accept that in wartime, or other emergencies, travel may be difficult, if not impossible. You may not be able to be with a loved one who is sick or dying. You took that risk when you went away, or chose to love overseas. Sometimes it is preferable to visit those left behind after a funeral, after the immediate impact of loss has passed. It is not always possible, or even desirable, to attend a funeral. With technology it can be Zoomed, live-streamed, or recorded; and people can talk about their memories of it afterwards.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence of Kiwis taking care. Most places have a QR code to be scanned; some have hand sanitiser, but the cafés are full again, eftpos terminals are sticky, sports practices and games are on, and most activities have returned.  This news, however, has shaken us up, as did last night’s earthquake: this woke me. The shaking, although not intense, did seem to go on for quite a while. Thankfully, I went back to sleep afterwards.

I guess we felt confident that there was extensive testing available in New Zealand; that there had been widespread community testing; and that there were no known cases here. There would be cases in future, but these would be managed. All overseas visitors were being quarantined for 14 days in government-monitored facilities.  We were free to go back to being scared of catching whatever we were trying to avoid before – influenza, colds,  respiratory infections, and tummy upsets. Within that, we tried to keep healthy – keep in touch with friends and family; go to stimulating activities; do some exercising and walking; attend to our spiritual needs; have the occasional treat, be it an item of clothing, a new pair of shoes, a meal out, or something nice to eat. Now, there is again a feeling of violation, of invasion. We coped with a strict lock down, and now this happens? We went without going to church, seeing friends, seeing movies, eating out, or even having takeaway food, for this to happen? We were glad to make sacrifices, while Jacinda Ardern was thanking us, and the government had our back. Now there are multiple views on just what constitutes “an emergency”.

While it is upsetting to have three new cases of Covid 19 in New Zealand; it is not entirely unexpected. But whereas before, when everyone was brought down to a similar level of existence, now the different rules for different folk emerge. It is truly upsetting that there are loud and angry voices of shock being put forward – why weren’t the rules more strictly enforced? From those who argued previously that the lock down was far to strict, and why wasn’t it being lifted? Why couldn’t people go to funerals? Well, now you see just why (not).

Overseas, things continue to be very interesting. The UK has scrapped its much-vaunted tracing application. BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests and marches continue in many countries but especially in the US, where a process of education is going on, and a gradual acceptance by some conservatives that black people don’t deserve to get shot to death by armed police, and that there is systemic racism and discrimination in America. Whatever happened to the legal due process? It has been fascinating to watch this realisation. Of course, no one is racist at all until this issue affects them personally and  they have to give something up.

It is so interesting to see and hear these conversations taking place, about the need to be sensitive to the moment, and not to discount the spirit of disquiet by saying these marches have been overtaken by terrorist or anarchic elements, or there are some “bad apples” in the police.  Meanwhile, Covid 19 marches on, and on, and on, now hurting different US states such as California, Texas, Arizona…while Michigan, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey now see their rates falling at last, after severe amounts of death and disease.

Meanwhile, Trump and some Republicans seem increasingly tone-deaf to grievances.  Other Republicans, who still support Trump, are scared for their own election outcomes. The Lincoln Project continues to produce scathing advertisements; the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of employees’ right to keep or be selected for employment, despite their sexuality, and has ruled in favour of DACA recipients. John Bolton’s book (or rather, leaked excerpts of it), proclaim further depths of Trump’s unfitness to be US President.  This has shocked many of us, who thought we could no longer be shocked.

Back in New Zealand, my hymn-singing group reconvened on Wednesday at the Khandallah Presbyterian Church in Ganges Road. It took us at least 30 minutes to get there in the car, We left home at 8:20 am. Despite the rain, it was not too cold. Afterwards I caught a bus into town, where I met another friend. She taught me to use my eftpos card’s corner to tap the numbers for my PIN. This, I found, works on some terminals, less well on others. I made my way to Tea Pea in Grey St, and had lunch at the Astoria Café. It was very busy, although they didn’t have their usual range of cabinet food. On my way home, I picked up a library book from Waitohi.

In Thursday morning we had singing again, and my son and grandson came to visit in the afternoon. I expected someone to come and help with cleaning on Friday, but no one came. I had lunch with my cousin at Simmer Café, which was extremely busy.

This voice of reason and calm is to be continued! Have a great weekend!      

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