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Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

New Zealand is often accused of being behind the times, usually by people who have never been here, who don’t know anything about the social innovations throughout our history, who think (mistakenly) that their country is at the cutting edge of everything, or that the way they do things is “modern” and the way we do things is “old-fashioned” despite any evidence to the contrary, or based on anecdotes from the 1960s or 70s! (Don’t get me started on specific examples I’ve encountered over the years.) However, in the last couple of years, we have been blissfully behind the times. As you know, we’ve been living largely pre-COVID lives, with crowds without social distancing, and largely mask-free.

That was until we had an outbreak of COVID in the community in August. After a relatively brief lockdown, outside of Auckland the rest of the country is almost back to normal. We’re in our Alert Level 2, which means we are under restrictions that will seem very familiar to so many of you, even though there are no known cases in Wellington. There are limits on the size of gatherings indoors (50, increasing to 100 at midnight tonight), and for the first time, given the arrival of the delta variant, there’s a requirement to wear masks everywhere. It’s something I’ve watched on international media over the last year and more, and have marvelled at how strange it seemed. Yet now, it is something we’re getting used to seeing and doing, surprisingly quickly.

You will, no doubt, laugh at the next few paragraphs. My thoughts must seem so 2020 to my overseas friends! Until this latest community outbreak, I had worn masks only a handful of times – a few times to visit my father-in-law in his retirement home last year before he died, once to see my doctor, and once on a bus. 4-5 times in 18 months. But the last few weeks I have been out wearing a mask, and have decided I don’t mind wearing masks (too much). There’s even a major advantage to it, I discovered. I don’t have to wear make-up if I’m just dashing to the shops. No-one will see my face anyway. Mascara only may be necessary if I’m going to see someone I know (I have pathetic eyelashes), otherwise my face goes bare. And I love it!

But there are downsides. Masks with ear-loops and ear-rings do not mix. I discovered this today, and have probably worn a mask and ear-rings together for the last time! There’s the danger of hurting my ear, or losing my ear-ring, or becoming entangled at an embarrassing time. A small stud might be easier, but as my hair has now grown over my earlobes, I know I can skip the ear-rings and not commit a fashion faux pas. The hardest thing is that masks are so hot! They’re fine outside if it is cold or windy, but inside they get steamy. I remember my friend Cee (from DC) telling me this last year. Sorry, Cee, I never quite realised how bad it can be. And it’s not even summer here. I don’t know how people with hot summers have coped. (Yes, I can “hear” the collective eyeroll from my US/Canadian/European/Asian friends, and I’m sorry!)

I also hate the thought of wearing a mask for long periods of time. Yes, I know many of you have had to do this for a long time already, and I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who has had to do this. But we’re thinking of going to a movie tomorrow, and I’m not particularly thrilled about the idea of two hours wearing a mask! Likewise, the thought of wearing a mask on a long-haul flight – 12 hours with no relief – makes me shudder. But I’ll have to get used to the idea if I ever want to escape these shores.

Fortunately, there seems to be a high level of compliance here, perhaps because we still have the chance to kick COVID’s butt one last time. Restrictions are lifting. Case numbers are falling. Our measures are working. Early next year, and once our vaccination rates are high enough (the government is aiming at a rate of 90% of those eligible) we will be opening our border restrictions, letting the outside world back in, and along with that we will probably have to learn to live with COVID here in the community. But for the next few months at least, I can sit in a restaurant – as my husband and I did today, taking advantage of the restarted Wellington on a Plate burger festival – and feel confident that no-one in the restaurant is infectious. We’re all hoping for one last Christmas and summer free of this, at least, before we face the inevitable. And if achieving that means I have to wear a mask to see an amazing Surrealist exhibition as we did today, then I’m fine with that. Even if I’m behind the times, and I’m still mourning (in anticipation) the loss of our previous lifestyle. I’m going to suck it up. I hoping everyone else here will do that too. For one last COVID-free summer. That’s our hope.

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New Zealand is in lockdown again. I say again, because aside from Auckland which has had a few short lockdowns, the rest of the country has not been in lockdown since April/May over a year ago. We have been living in an almost pre-COVID, “normal” situation for almost 16 months now, and our economy has rebounded and is performing extremely well as a result, but Delta has brought us all crashing back to earth. Whilst the rest of the world laughed at us locking down with only one confirmed positive case (although that has increased now to 150 and counting), there were reasons. The first was that there was no obvious link between that case and the border (which is where people flying into NZ bring the virus from the infectious rest of the world), the second was because Delta is so much more infectious (and we can see what is going on at the moment in Australia, and around the world), the third is that our vaccination numbers are low due to supply issues (supplies first went to the countries with active infections and greatest need) , and finally, because, as a small country, we have fewer (relative to other OECD countries) ICU beds.

We are hopeful we can beat this. The combination of great government communication, detailed contact tracing and genomic testing, wastewater testing to a remarkable degree of sensitivity, and a largely cooperative nation (because we know the delights of success, and have observed the consequences of failure or of not bothering to try) all leave us convinced it is worthwhile doing this. We want to get back to our free and easy Covid-free existence as soon as possible, because as I mentioned elsewhere, we know our days of enjoying that are numbered. We heard today that China had no new cases today, so if they can do it, surely we can too? Anyway, I know the delta variant is a game-changer, almost like a new virus, so we are all watching our daily updates with interest and trepidation, as well as a degree of hope.

Our near neighbour, Melbourne (Australia), has just reached 200 days in lockdown during the pandemic, at least four times as long as Wellington. So I’m not complaining. Blogging, social media, online chats,  and zoom sessions will keep me in touch with friends (I had one last night to replace a dinner that was planned for last week but cancelled, a standing monthly chat on Sunday, and another one later this week), I have plenty of projects and reorganisation to do, and if I don’t get to them I still have some new recipes planned, I’m knitting a new tea cosy, and have some baking planned. Lockdown is a little easier in winter, though exercising is not.

Speaking of tea cosies, recent cosies I’ve finished are fantastic, if I do say so myself! The designs are brilliant, and I am amazed at the creativity of the woman who designs them, Loani Prior. But I’m not showing photos because the recipients don’t have them yet. (And I never know who might be reading this!) I was thinking about why I am enjoying knitting them. They don’t take too long to finish, the designs are fun, and with each one, I’m essentially learning a new technique. I love that. I’m having fun doing a new design that is double-sided and reversible all on the one needle. I have all the paraphernalia now – a huge bag of wool, and a large plastic container full of even more wool to hide under the guest bed, and many new circular needles, and even some plastic pom-pom makers (so much better than old-fashioned cardboard circles).

Sadly, the lockdown came at the beginning of two-weeks of frenetic eating in Wellington, as our August food festival (Wellington On a Plate) was kicking off their Burger Wellington events that were to run to the end of the month. We had several interesting lunches and dinners out planned, aiming at trying some new and sometimes exotic burgers. (Savoury ice-creams with burgers seemed to be a new trend). Wellingtonians look forward to this festival all winter – it is deliberately timed for August when we might otherwise be hunkering down from the elements at home. So the lockdown has put paid to that. Apparently, though, they have an online community where people are inventing their own burgers, and I’m inspired to try too (though I might cheat and copy other ideas). I might even back my own burger buns. Lockdown sometimes brings forth new inspiration. And, I guess it is saving me a lot of money! We don’t know how long we will be in this situation. I suspect that Auckland will have to stay locked down much longer than the rest of the country. We’ll be in it longer than the South Island, as we have a few cases. But we have given ourselves a chance to get back to our normal, and that’s worth fighting for..

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A blogger friend mentioned that they went back to the mall recently for the first time in 16 months. She said, “In many ways, it was less stressful to give things up in 2020 than it has been to add them back in 2021.” Even though I’ve known in principle that this is how my family and friends overseas have been living since March 2020, it still blows my mind at the idea of doing these things for the first time in so long, and wondering how that must feel.

Then I stopped. In shock a little. Because I’ve been avoiding the obvious. Or had my head in the sand, refusing to acknowledge what is the truth! Though I know I’m not the only one. For the last 17 months, we’ve all been talking about “when COVID is over” or “after COVID.” But it is now patently obvious that, due to incompetent governments, selfish or foolish people, misinformation spread by the ignorant, and disinformation spread by unscrupulous, cruel, and corrupt people and organisations, there will be no truly post-COVID world. The vaccines aren’t going to win the battle entirely. They will make a huge difference, but the world seems to have been working against them being as effective as they could have been. What with variants running rampant, and vaccine resistance at unprecedented levels, it’s unlikely that we’ll eliminate the virus in the way that we’ve been able to with other diseases. Not in the short-medium term at least. (What even is “short-term” in terms of a pandemic?) This is what will change our lives forever. Or stop those whose lives have already changed from getting back to “normal.” Normal no longer exists.

Still, the rest of the world, as it sees vaccination rates increase and borders and restrictions open, will feel that their new normal is a welcome freedom. But for those of us in New Zealand, blissfully (by and large) living in our little COVID-free cocoon, it is going to be the opposite. We have spent most of the last 14 months living life as normal, except for a) using an app to scan in when we enter shops, medical centres, buses etc, and b) wearing masks on public transport and flights. And of course, our borders have been closed. But as our economy and society opens up to the rest of the world, as it must eventually, the freedom we enjoy now will disappear. Forever. We’re going to have to get used to wearing masks in more places, even as you – if you live overseas – might find you have to wear them less, and rejoice in that fact. As you get used to meeting up with friends and going to malls and restaurants again, for the first time, we will have to train ourselves to start thinking about risks involved. And as you get used to travelling again, including to our country, we’ll have to get used to travelling with a sense of risk and restrictions. It’s all going to be a loss. One I can see coming, but can do nothing about. A New Zealand lifestyle lost, as imposed on us by the rest of the world. It makes me sad. A little angry. And it is one I am mourning. The life we had. The dreams we once had. Changed forever.

But maybe I need a change of attitude too. Instead of chafing at the bit to escape these shores and visit friends and family and see the world, I need to try and appreciate what we still have, whilst we still have it. Because I know how lucky we have been. And I know that it cannot and will not continue.

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