Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Heading into Lockdown

Over the weekend, COVID-19 case numbers in NZ increased to 102, and the first dreaded signs of community transmission appeared in Auckland and Wairarapa. To my huge relief, the government was swift to act. In an address to the nation yesterday, PM Jacinda Ardern raised the nation's immediate alert level to 3, with the understanding that over the next 48 hours the country will prepare to go into full level 4 lockdown (as of midnight Wednesday, NZ time).

Lockdown means all schools closed, all businesses closed except for health services, pharmacies, supermarkets, supply chain, police & vital govt services. We are all to stay home, no travel outside local area, no contact with anyone outside our households. If we go outside we must maintain 2m distance from anyone else. If needed, this will be enforced by police & military. The government will prohibit rent increases and evictions, work with banks to provide mortgage relief, and ensure basic income for all Kiwis. We will remain in lockdown for at least 4 weeks.

This is absolutely New Zealand's best and only hope of preventing the swamping of the health system and the resultant huge numbers of deaths. Will it work? Oh goodness I hope so, but only time will tell.

It's a little chaotic right now, as people rush to prepare. Despite the calls to "shop normally", supermarkets in bigger cities are apparently madhouses. Tourists who haven't yet left the country may not be able to get out in time, as many flights are cancelled. Kiwis who'd been traveling in different areas of the country are racing to get home, a process complicated by the ferries between North and South Islands having limited space.

But everyone agrees this is necessary. My eyes welled up when I saw the statement of support from NZ's main opposing political party, the more conservative National party. They have suspended all campaigning and expressed full confidence in the PM's actions, despite the severe economic consequences of a full lockdown. “We support any measures that will protect the health and safety of New Zealanders...we will work in a supportive and constructive way with the Government in the interests of bringing New Zealand through this crisis together."

Those of you in America will understand why I nearly wept upon reading that. Just...I can't even imagine seeing a similar headline in the US, and that both terrifies me and breaks my heart. The deep divisions of American society are about to quite literally kill people. Especially the "alternate reality" bubble that so many Americans have complacently built around themselves; the one in which the president is super-competent and the virus over-blown. I want to scream when I think of the months wasted, the insistent denials of the virus's severity, the eagerness to prioritize profit over people's lives, so that even now, too many people don't take self-isolation seriously.

I keep thinking of the line from HBO's Chernobyl miniseries, "Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth; sooner or later, that debt is paid."

In America, the debt is coming due. I fear it will cost far more lives than Chernobyl.

Yet I cling to hope. Regardless of government, each of us has some power to affect the virus's spread. When my husband and son and I went for a walk last night, we and the other families we saw called cheerful greetings from a good long distance and conscientiously steered well clear of each other. I've been messaging the parents of my son's friends to set up virtual playtime options. Local Facebook groups are filled with people offering whatever help is needed for those alone or requiring shopping assistance. All this is in no way unique to New Zealand, I am sure. Our actions are our own best hope, regardless of country.

So to everyone out there, wherever you live, I pray you stay healthy and safe. And please, so long as the virus is not contained, stay isolated.

It's okay to go outside if there's nobody else around


  1. Take care of yourself, Courtney, you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Paul, and I wish the same for you. May you stay healthy and safe.

  2. I am glad that the Government acted when it did. This gives us the best chance we have to minimise death and the associated guilt we would rightly feel as a society if we let these just happen. My heart goes out to people in America and other places who are not being protected and supported by those they have entrusted to see them through times like these

  3. I would like to add that some of the US governors do look like they are providing great, compassionate leadership. I really hope that the contrast is noted.

    1. This is so true! It's been really heartening to see some US governors step up in the face of crisis. Jay Inslee of Washington took action swiftly and managed to keep their outbreak within levels their hospitals could handle; and Mike DeWine of Ohio took the warnings seriously from the start and has worked very hard to prepare his state and prevent deaths. (It's a particular relief in DeWine's case to see it's possible for a Republican to break with the party line, listen to scientists, and do a good job at governing.)