Day 75 and in an hour New Zealand will be shifting into alert level one which means a return to life as we knew it before. This means no more restrictions on our movements and everyday dealings. We can fly about the country. We can gather together in large numbers. Business and industry can resume, as before. The only barriers remaining in place are our international borders. People arriving will receive a health check and if they have symptoms — a temperature, a cough, — they will be tested for Covid-19. Every overseas traveller, will go into quarantine for fourteen days. And though we may open our bubble to Australia and some Pacific nations it is likely this measure will remain in place for quite some time.
It is remarkable what Jacinda Ardern, her cabinet, and Ashley Bloomfield have achieved. There are no longer any active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Overall 1154 people have been infected with the virus and there have been 22 deaths whereas through the rest of the world the figure that we know about with certainty is now up to six million infected and over 400,000 deaths.
We have done extraordinarily well. That rush into lockdown, while bewildering and shocking at the time, was the very best action our prime minister could have taken. Yet we cannot be complacent. Until covid-19 has been eradicated from the planet we remain vulnerable, along with every other human being. We are in this together. And here it is only a matter of time before an international traveller will bring the virus back into New Zealand. Hopefully the new stringent tests and checks, the refined contact tracing system, the strengthened health protocols at airports and within hospitals will provide the necessary protection to keep us from falling again into a version of lockdown at level 2, or 3, or, and oh please not, 4. That was awful for many of us, although not all. Some people liked the stillness, the very deep peace and quiet. They had their significant others with them. They didn’t need outside connections. They were content with the pared down, simple life. I’ve read that for some people with anxiety disorders their condition improved in lockdown. They felt less depressed because they weren’t alone with their fears. All around them, across the world, people were worried and fearful too. But again this wasn’t consistent, many people suffering from anxiety felt much worse in lockdown. Still others were trapped with a tyrant and were unsafe in their family groupings, shut in with bullies and molesters. Those stories are just beginning to come out now.
All of this illustrates how varied has been the experience of the coronavirus pandemic for each and every individual across race and age and health status and economic class. Some of us have been very lucky, the privileged have been sheltered while others at the opposite end of the spectrum, and many in between, have experienced extreme pain and suffering and grief. There are multiple stories, so many variations and versions under this one theme — pandemic. I really hope people will continue to send in their reflections/observations/stories/journal entries to the growing collection, in order to record this historic moment. For it is important to pay attention and remember and learn from our experience.
Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a recent article, “Covid-19 and The Ethics of Memory,’ published in the medical journal 'The Lancet' on 6 June, 2020. There the author Richard Horton suggests that though lockdowns are lifting around the world we should not be complacent. “Pandemics are the number one acute risk to societies in the 21st century.” And though, understandably, we all wish to move on, ‘We have an obligation to remember this pandemic and its consequences. The number of lives lost is too great to forget.’ He believes it is essential to find ways of embedding the memory of the pandemic within our communities to ensure that the things we have learned are not forgotten. In this way society will be stronger the next time a pandemic strikes. This question of a society’s obligation to remember is also examined in The Ethics of Memory (2002) by Ashivai Margalit who wrote, “The search for knowledge is therefore an exercise in reminiscence, that is, an effort to recall and recollect that which we once knew.”
Horton ends the article on this thought “Securing the memory of COVID-19 is the minimum we owe to each other in the aftermath of this catastrophe.”
And so I will continue my commitment to documenting, from a personal perspective, the experience of living in the time of coronavirus although the increase in my own workload as we move into level 1 means it will be less often, twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. Hopefully though your stories will roll in...