Lockdown in New Zealand 2.0. OMFG. Here we go again.
Just a few days ago, I was talking to my partner Giulio over coffee, saying I just had a spidey-sense we were about to be hit with COVID again. As we watched our neighbors across the pond in Australia get smacked badly with Delta, with similarly closed borders to us, we were collectively holding our breath. For most of us here in little old New Zealand, COVID has felt like a war happening far away (New Zealand’s ability to isolate and ignore the rest of the world is a story for another day).
Once COVID arrived here back in early 2020, our fierce leader Jacinda closed the borders and issued a tough-as lockdown, as well as closing the border to anyone who is not a permanent resident or citizen with a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival at a government hotel. Not those sad little “lockdowns” you guys have in other places (please read with the word “lockdown” with me doing mock air quotes, Australia). I mean a harsh lockdown for two months: no shipping or online shopping. No gatherings. Nada. You were only allowed out to supermarkets, pharmacies and to get exercise near your home, all wearing masks.
And guess what? It worked. We have been COVID-free in the community for 18 months, with a few cases slipping through here with two short lockdowns in Auckland during that whole time and any other cases being in managed isolation upon entering New Zealand at the quarantine hotels.
We’ve had it good here. Pretty much for over a year, life has been normal, with everyday gatherings, no masks, no restrictions, no COVID. But with low vaccinations rates and multiple close calls, it was only a matter of time our moat was breached. Delta slipped in just a few days ago. We have swiftly gone into our harshest lockdown level with only 6 hours’ notice. Pretty jarring for most people here.
Eighteen months into a pandemic, and my perspective has evolved into something much more nuanced. I think we all feel a bit war-torn and jaded, and I haven’t even had to endure the tremendous impact of COVID like most others around the world!
Sure, New Zealand had gotten so much right with its COVID response. The world has applauded us, and rightly so. Jacinda has been an incredible leader. Our only option was to eliminate COVID. Why? Because New Zealand simply does not have the medical infrastructure to cope with a severe outbreak. There are only a couple hundred ICU beds nationwide and a similar number of ventilators, and there is even less medical staff to operate them now than a year ago. In fact, New Zealand ranks near the bottom of the OECD for per-capita ICU capacity.
New Zealand is small, with only 5 million people nationwide. It’s very much a rural place. For example, when I lived in Wanaka, my closest hospital was a 3.5-hour drive away in Dunedin.
My brain sees all of this logically and nods in agreement. Our uncompromising stance was essential. But that doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t screaming, or I love what has happened with this latest lockdown in New Zealand.
We, the people in New Zealand, have endured everything asked of us, a lot with great personal loss and suffering. But why had the vaccination rollout been so slow and sloppy? It’s only now just being ramped up, whereas my family overseas is getting their third booster. The COVID breaches came through mistakes on the border, many of which the government hasn’t explained to us. Why do businesses and athletes get priority and special permission to travel, but I can’t go to my stepdad’s funeral? Why do fishing companies that pillage precious marine reserves allowed to bring in workers with COVID, but I can’t do any of my travel work?
The other day I was reading that almost a third of Kiwis were born overseas. It’s been 18 months since our borders were closed. It’s virtually impossible to find a spot in the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine upon return to New Zealand, which comes at a whopping $3,100 price tag too. How long is it justifiable to keep families apart? Immigration is paused indefinitely here, and we are very much faced with the possibility that if we leave New Zealand, we can’t come back.
When will it end? When can we see our families?
I’ve been dwelling a lot lately on the ethics and complexities we face these days. I bet many of you are too.
Sure we’ve had it good here in New Zealand, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. With no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
As an adopted Kiwi, I’m so thankful to live in a place doing its best to look after its people. As a daughter, I’m desperate to go back and see my family. As an introvert, I’m like fuck yes, another lockdown wahoo! And as a small business owner of NODE, I’m quietly shitting my pants.
It’s pretty powerful to see how many different truths we can hold about ourselves. I suppose that’s what makes us human!
A convenient trap to believe these days is that everything is black and white. Just because I hate that I can’t see my family doesn’t mean I hate the New Zealand government. Just because I love lockdown (I love getting a breather, and I don’t have to talk to anyone) doesn’t mean I love the fact that my business is taking a massive financial hit. We are complex creatures, and I think there needs to be more space to understand that we can feel many things at once, AND all of those feelings are valid.
Like Jacinda tells us every day: stay calm, be kind, be strong. And stay the fuck at home.
Can you relate to this? Are you in lockdown in New Zealand right now, and if so, how do you feel about it? Do you have multiple conflicting emotions with COVID too? Share!