Reality Bites Again

It is now Sunday, February 28th. Kia ora katoa.

Last night the government held a press conference at 9 pm, where the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield addressed the nation, followed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson.  Auckland is to go back to level 3 Covid 19 restrictions for one week, starting at 6 am this morning, and the rest of New Zealand will be at level 2. I guess we know the drill, now, and are quite familiar with these levels. Another community case has been found, connected to Papatoetoe College; this person had had three negative tests for Covid 19, then went to their GP because they had symptoms of Covid 19. While awaiting the results of their test, they went to a gym! How stupid is that? Their mother has tested positive, too. Consequently Auckland is at level 3 for a week, and many events have been affected including a Round the Bays Run (cancelled), a T20 Cricket Match (relocated), and America’s Cup races will probably have to be delayed too. I can understand Aucklanders’ frustration with this situation – Auckland has been affected three times since the whole country went into lockdown, but at least we are used to this – the kinds of restrictions; mask-wearing; QR code scanning, and, of course, washing our hands. My cousin in Auckland will be so relieved her son’s wedding went ahead last Saturday, in between level 3 lockdowns (8 days!).

In the meantime, I’ve had an update from Hohepa, and I’m waiting to see what will go ahead this week; I would pick tai chi, and singing on Thursday; Wednesday’s events (hymn singing and a movie) may be cancelled. So really, it’s no big deal for me here. I guess it’s a reminder, though, to take this ever-mutating disease seriously: we have vaccines approved here now, and MIQ staff are being vaccinated; but new variants of Covid 19 are out there, sometimes with no symptoms, or different symptoms; some people contract this virus, despite being only “casual contacts” of an infected person; other people, who would be regarded as “close contacts”, stay free of the infection. So we’re not out of the woods yet, and we still don’t really understand the risks involved. One asks again, is infection airborne? Or just carried on surfaces, such as hand-rails, door knobs, lift buttons? One wonders what risks are being taken and not owned up to. It seems there are questions about the air-conditioning system at the Pullman Hotel, used for MIQ, and the scene of some infections. I wonder about bathrooms where, when you turn on the light, the fan comes on too. One may  prefer to do one’s business, flush the loo, close the toilet seat, and then put the fan on, to avoid circulating faecal germs. But if you don’t have a choice between using the light and the fan, you’d prefer not to be in the dark. Has anyone in the government thought about this?

It transpires that these new Covid 19 infections are the UK variant.  There are no new community cases today (Sunday), but more are expected. I imagine that Aucklanders are furious. I went up to my local store this morning, and they’ve already put distancing stickers in place (I almost tripped over one), and separated the entrance way for people going in and out. Nevertheless, someone ambled in the exit door, and someone else tried to hurry me up at checkout. I suspect many people still don’t know we’re at level 2 again, although my cell phone beeped loudly and messages have been displayed on Maori television: that’s great, but not so great when the message obscures the subtitles of their rather good Sunday evening movie, The Gilded Cage (the language was French, about a Portuguese family living in Paris, but it was mostly so quickly spoken that I couldn’t understand it).

While thankfully levels of deaths and hospitalisations are falling in most places overseas, it does seem, though, that if you’ve been vaccinated, and subsequently get Covid 19, you have a much better chance of having this disease lightly. So that’s a relief.

There is still quite a lot of superstition about vaccines, although we’ve been hanging out for vaccines, to get us out of this situation, and let parents feel safer about sending their children to school, and teachers about teaching.  Vaccination is underway here, with the Pfizer vaccine being chosen, and MIQ staff first in line, as they should be. Jacinda Ardern has undertaken to post information (an Instagram post), but I found the comments below quite amazing, ranging from the truly grateful to the amazingly sceptical. While I accept there’s always some small risk involved in having a vaccine administered, I am a strong believer in vaccines. Two of my mother’s siblings had polio, and NZ schools were closed during the polio epidemic of 1951. I remember the huge fear of often deadly diseases, and the relief when the first vaccines arrived, when I was at primary school.  Vaccines are just huge, and have transformed many aspects of our lives, along with a woman’s ability to control her fertility. Vaccines and contraceptives are among the factors that enable parents to expect their children will outlive them, and for women to pursue careers.  Chris Hipkins has suggested that South Aucklanders be vaccinated first, and I’d have to say I agree with him.

There continues to be a housing crisis in this country, with prices to buy or to rent having risen enormously. This situation has arisen largely because of the Covid pandemic.  Kiwis are coming back to New Zealand, often very well off. Meanwhile, New Zealanders can’t go overseas, so consequently there are few properties available, and more buyers wanting to buy them. The cheaper houses are, of course, in places that don’t have many jobs available, and have smaller populations, which doesn’t suit everyone, although there are many more options for employment with more people working from home. The average house price is about $1m. While interest rates are low, and it’s relatively “easy” to buy a house (using Kiwisaver for a deposit), you still have to have a good-paying job to service that mortgage, or that rental (the average weekly rental is $600).  So how do people on a benefit, or on National Superannuation, cope? How much are rent subsidies? Is private ownership not out of reach for many families? People have a right to feel secure about their living arrangements, that they can afford the rent, or the mortgage, in an environment that works for them in terms of schooling, transport, and services, like shopping and medicine.

There’s a huge fashion for tiny houses at present.  While this suits some folk, the coronavirus pandemic has made us re-evaluate everything we value. I was relieved that my three sons who own homes have nice ones, with a yard and a garden, and fencing so there is room for the children to play outside as well as inside (a blessing, since you couldn’t use equipment at the park). I was glad of my large house, and pleased I hadn’t got rid of my books – I had plenty to read, and re-read.

It’s easy to forget, while blaming Jacinda Ardern for this housing crisis, and saying she should “do something”, how bad the housing crisis was under National. The situation was dire then, with many houses standing empty (how many houses does one person need?), and state houses sold, while folk lived in their cars, in someone’s garage (not always rent-free), shared a small house with others, shared beds, and many had far from adequate living conditions. We have come some way since then, with the Labour government having a kinder attitude towards prioritising needs, but there is still a great deal to be done. A friend spoke about driving around the poorer South Auckland suburbs, where housing conditions are truly dire. Surely everyone that wants one deserves a home, that is in reasonable condition, with adequate heating.  It is not as bad here as many countries overseas, including the US, where some don’t have reticulated water or plumbing, but surely we can do better. It seems to me whenever there’s a more liberal, democratic, kinder government elected, they’re so scared of annoying their right-wing, Tory/Republican opposition that they fail to do the things they were elected to do, namely, make things better for poorer people!  How often have the right-wing seriously annoyed me, valuing money, and return on their investments, more than human life itself? I should point out here that despite the failure of Kiwibuild, a record number of building permits have been issued, and councils are opening up more land for building houses. That’s well and good, but still doesn’t take into account people who are not well-off and need a safe, affordable place to live.

It seems to me that the Hohepa model works well, where each home/ household is a community, and where there’s some give and take. While the residents are carefully matched, there is an understanding that everyone is entitled to their own room, and to be safe and warm, and have their basic needs attended to. The government went through a phase of asking folk what they’d like, and setting them up in flats for one, with help. What a lonely situation! Nobody ever asked me what I’d like!  The question is worth asking, but more than once. There are many factors that go into what “one would like”, including good company, more lightness or darkness, peace and quiet, or background noise, what kind of pets, if any; what kind of neighbourhood. My daughter lives a good life. If one needs to be cared for, it’s worth thinking about these issues. Fundamentally, any living arrangement requires compromises, which may well change as one gets older. Married, single, having a family, multi-generational, it’s advisable to have a schedule, and some kind of discipline within doing what you like, with occasional treats, and respect for others.

While the Hohepa model has people living in homes/houses, they come together for many events: the frequent festivals, celebrating the changing seasons – Harvest (autumn), Blazing Star/Matariki (mid-winter), Spring Carnival, and, of course, Christmas is a special time, with plays that are performed every year (the Paradise Play and the Shepherds’ Play), and Christmas carols. They all come together for funerals, and someone stays with the body until the funeral has been held. There is a great richness of events, celebrations, and the beauty of nature, with most of it accompanied by good food, singing, music, and folk-dancing.  The emphasis is not to “normalise” these special people, like our daughter, but to accept life and celebrate nature’s goodness, while being aware of her potential threats.

It is now Monday. The number of newly diagnosed Covid 19 cases has not yet been announced, but the Prime Minister is to hold a press conference at 3 pm. Somewhat predictably, my Wednesday’s planned activities have been cancelled – hymn singing (in the organ loft, it’s quite a small space), and a movie at the Khandallah Community Centre. Debate continues about singing on Thursday; I’ve had no word about Tai Chi tomorrow.

Apparently there’s one new case in MIQ (another case of Stuff publishing misleading information – how annoying is that?), and none in the community. We look forward to the 3 pm press conference. That’s it for now. Ngā mihi.

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