We took back control

World famous in New Zealand: Aratiatia Rapids, Taupo | Stuff.co.nz

Today is Wednesday February 17th. Kia ora!

Here in New Zealand we are waiting for a news conference to state whether the level 3 lock down will be lifted at midnight tonight, i.e. whether the current levels will be changed. There is a government meeting at 3 pm. There are not many changes at level 2: my tai chi and singing sessions continue; you have to wear a mask on public transport (I found my old one, but cannot find the supply of additional masks that I bought).  

For background, a woman, her husband and one of her teenage children received positive Covid 19 diagnoses on Sunday. Another teenager tested negative. They all have a more infectious UK variant. As the woman works for Sky Chefs, it was assumed initially that she had caught it somehow from a traveller/workplace interaction. Then yesterday there were no new cases of Covid 19 diagnosed, either in MIQ or in the community, but the Director-General oof Health stated that the mother may not have been the source. Today it was announced at 1 pm the two Papatoetoe College students had tested positive, both being “close contacts” of the original teenager. So we are all agog for the coming announcement. We are also on the point of vaccinations starting – they must be almost due to arrive, and MIQ staff are first in line to be vaccinated.

In Wellington, we are at level 2. Institutions have hurried to enforce the rules again – we have been her before – but most people are pretty casual about it all. In the ANZ Bank you have to queue to go in – I asked if I could wait in their entrance lobby, out of the wind. In the local Westpac, there is no enforcement, but you have to queue, anyway. In the new library, they are quite fussy about logging in. In some places, it is still hard to find the QR codes.

I am so pleased that we went to Taupo for Waitangi Weekend, before the new levels of lock down were imposed here. We saw a lot of things. The town seemed busy, but apparently it can feel far fuller than that. It was nice; the weather was kind, and it was good not to have to queue for things, although the day we bought our cruise tickets that day’s sailings had all been booked out. Everywhere we went, things were humming along, with no sign of recession. I am sure some people are hurting, but it is so nice to be able to do and see stuff in our own country.  I think people all over feel this. Many are not hesitating to see the country, seeing we can’t go anywhere else!

In the US, I have been glued to Trump’s second impeachment trial. At the end of it, the Senate voted to acquit him, with just 7 republican senators breaking ranks with their own party and find Trump guilty. The evidence was very compelling.  It seemed that everyone agreed Trump was guilty, yet the majority voted not to convict him.  Afterwards, McConnell spoke very strongly about how Trump was responsible for the riot in the Capitol.  The backlash has already begun, with Trump having had a go at McConnell. Well, guys, fight it out, why don’t you?  I cannot feel sympathy for McConnell. And where are the Evangelical voices?  Finding and acting on your conscience, perhaps? There is great debate about what will happen to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, President Biden and his super-competent team quietly get on with things. It’s amazing. Trump, now no longer a politician, faces a number of lawsuits and financial difficulties.  The case brought by the new Attorney-General of Fulton County in Georgia may be the first.  This amazing black woman, Fani Willis, only took office at the beginning of January.

Meanwhile, Texas and other southern states are gripped by icy, cold weather. Oregon and Washington State aren’t having it so good, either. Not only are these folk thoroughly unused to snow and ice, it is terribly cold (below freezing point, in many places), and there are power outages.  Thankfully, official death rates from the coronavirus are falling, although you’d think it would be very hard to get to a hospital in such bad weather.  Bring on the vaccines, and I hope they keep a step ahead pf the virus.

It’s now Tuesday, and things have moved on. It was announced last Wednesday that Auckland would move to level 2, and the rest of the country to level 1. Three weddings (that I know of)) went ahead on Saturday – one in Auckland, one in Wellington, and one in Nelson.  By all accounts they all went well. The weather was beautiful – fine, and not too hot.

Now Auckland is at level 1, along with the rest of the country. We had a brief scare, but we’re back to the new ”normal” again. A difference is that it is now mandatory too wear masks on public transport, anywhere in New Zealand. Some people seem unaware of this – you don’t see masks anywhere else much – but buses seem to have supplies of masks and are giving them away. That’s a very kind and welcome gesture, as I still can’t find my supply of masks, and I suspect you’re supposed to change them every so often.

I picked up another library book this afternoon, Mike Duncan’s The Storm Before the Storm, and I’ve read the first chapter and listened to him reading the second.  Although the story’s quite complicated, the short of it is that Tiberius Gracchus tried to introduce land reform to the Roman Republic in 133 B.C. For his troubles, he was killed on the Roman Senate floor. Someone mentioned this incident, and this book, in connection with the U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6th, and indeed, it’s a very moving incident, too.

When New Zealand first went into a strict lock down, almost one year ago, It was a very scary time here, with new cases of Covid 19 popping up all over the country. It came as a huge relief when the government took decisive action in closing the borders, introducing managed quarantine, and a strict lock down. Consequently case numbers eventually started, and continued, to drop. Modifications have been made as required, but these constraints have been quite amazingly effective, to the extent that now we can do pretty much as we please, live “normal” lives, although we can’t go anywhere overseas yet. We took back control, in effect – and we now have very good coffee, too! There have been a couple of community outbreaks in Auckland – in August last year and just recently, and we don’t know just where they emerged, but they seem to have been contained. Vaccinations have started here, too.

Initially, I read a great deal about plagues – Thucydides’ account of the plague in Athens; Albert Camus’ famous novel, The Plague, and many others. I also watched films like Contagion and listened to many podcasts. There was a kind of fascination, at a safe remove, of course, with the concept of a dread disease, and with famous tourist sites being now devoid of people and traffic. I continue to liken it to being at war, without the rationing.  This sickness, while truly awful for many, does not include swellings or boils, or diarrhoea and vomiting. For that, we must all be thankful.

Sadly, the end results of plagues are alarmingly similar. There tends to be a breakdown in society, where the rules are flouted with gay abandon, unless there re steep fines imposed. The degree of civil obedience is tested in many places. Thankfully, here in New Zealand, most people are reasonable, and comply with requests to limit their freedoms. Overseas, we have seen protests, sometimes armed, against restrictions.  There are actions of great altruism, and those of supreme selfishness. The rich try to get away – sometimes they get sick, too. Everyone tried to deal with the situation they’re faced with, and makes accommodations as required. Conspiracy theories abounded. With the benefit of being older, I think that this too shall pass, and I really don’t mind. I’m not badly impacted in any way. I’m happy to do as I’m told (provided services are available!) The other day our water was cut off, without warning, and I couldn’t have a shower when I wanted to. There is a building site quite close – they hadn’t realised we’d be affected by having the water cut off.  This brought home to me the privations suffered by millions of Texans, who, not only suffered freezing cold temperatures, and power cuts, then had the further indignity of not having fresh water.  What a strange place the US is.

The US has now passed the sad milestone of experiencing 500,000 deaths from Covid 19. It hasn’t gone away yet. But there are vaccines, and although people will continue to die from this for some time, the end is possibly in sight.

Ngā mihi.

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