For the first time we are witnessing a truly unique event that is affecting the whole world – a pandemic that is incredibly infectious and has altered the way that human beings conduct their lives, business and behaviour. Like other catastrophic events, we see the very best of people, and the very worst. Unfortunately – while we may be the dominant species on this planet, we are not always the best.
I have been down in Christchurch for the past week, spending time with my Dad and working at home. My mum passed late last year and it’s strange – and nice to be home. Christchurch appears to be continuing as normal – supermarket shopping is orderly and respectful, people are kind to each other – even more so than usual. This is a city that has already dealt with, and overcome monumental tragedy, and it has a very palpable sense of togetherness and community. I’m not picking it out for special favour – I know that all cities and towns in New Zealand have very much the same thing.
In the past few days this country has seen some unique firsts – closing our borders to everyone expect New Zealand citizens and residents (with some exceptions), and moving to a heightened state of alertness where amongst other measures, the 528,000 Kiwis over the age of 70 have been asked to stay at home. My dad is 76. We planned a walk today and curtailed it, we went out for breakfast yesterday, before the government announced new restrictions to social interaction.
Dad and I have talked at length about what all this means. He is stoical and independent, but he is smart and realistic. He has a pre-existing medical condition that directly places him in the most vulnerable demographic to Covid-19. He also has fantastic neighbours, who have offered to get shopping for him and regularly check in by phone. We have a network of friends who have also offered to help and its extremely heartwarming to know that there are caring people looking out for others. I hope it is the same for the rest of the half million New Zealanders over the age of 70, but I know it may not be.
In the past few weeks we have all learned new phrases that have rapidly become the new normal – ‘social distancing’, ‘evening the curve,’ and they are not suggestions – they are vital pointers to how we need to behave to ensure we protect our country’s most vulnerable citizens. The vast majority of those who have died in Italy fit firmly into the over 70s age bracket and practically all have pre-existing medical conditions. We all need to live by the rules of social distancing to prevent the same thing occurring here. We cannot afford to overwhelm our health services with a flood of seriously ill people and the easiest way to do that is to radically alter our behaviour and interactions with others.
Unfortunately, while many Kiwis are rallying around to help each other and to do what they can to lessen the burden on others, there are those who willfully and selfishly ignore all advice to limit social interaction and to shop normally, instead of panic buying and hoarding. Personally, I find those who do this the vilest of us at this present juncture. It is abject selfishness that deprives others. To quote George Costanza –“We are living in a society!” The point is that for the very first time in human history – we are truly all in this together. There is no place for looking inward and acting to protect only ourselves. This time there is far too much at stake.
Everything is moving very quickly and news changes almost as it goes to print or is published online. There is little doubt that the next few months are going to be extremely challenging but I also have every confidence that there will be an end to it that will change how human beings behave and interact. There has been ugly and needless division, fostered and furthered by irrelevant political and ideological differences. Politics seems so completely irrelevant right now. Leadership that protects us and aids us in crisis is what we need most and I believe that in New Zealand we have that in spades. Be careful out there, stay at home as much as you can, wash your hands, and look out for our most vulnerable Kiwis – they need it.