Mum is sitting on the rocking chair, wrapping apples in old Mountain Scene papers. The grass outside is green, the mountains golden in the sun and the sky blue with some cloud and little wind. This should be a bucolic countryside scene, but my mental cast is more akin to the apocalypse. On Friday we woke to the knowledge that New Zealand’s borders are closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents. This is a first for our country, though not a world first in this new era. On Friday I would have said that our citizens will always be able to come in, but today I wonder, because it is starting to seem like anything is possible and nothing is certain.
Talking with my cousin today, she remarked on how the speed of events related to Covid-19 seems unbelievable. Perhaps ‘unabsorbable’ is the correct wording for the state our brains are in. From last Monday it was required that all visitors to New Zealand self-quarantine. That seemed like a sensible move at the time, visitors were bringing in Covid-19 and New Zealand had very few cases. However, by Friday visitors are no longer able to come in at all, New Zealand is urging all its citizens to repatriate ‘home’, and many are struggling to do so as borders close and flights stop.
When I woke to that knowledge of the closures I felt like crying. Not for how it might affect my travel, not really for the impact of the closure itself on anyone in particular, but based on the knowledge of the enormity of the decisions governments are taking and the likely enormity of what is yet to come. When I heard Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on National Radio at 12 noon yesterday I again felt like crying. When I said this to the woman behind the pharmacy counter in Cromwell she said, “I would give you a hug, but instead all I can do is wave my hands like that round emoji with very large hands waving rapidly at its side. At least everyone laughs.” We are indeed all searching for laughter wherever it may be hiding.
Jacinda spoke as calmly, clearly and directly as she has so many times in the past year, and in the past weeks. She announced the increase in cases, including cases that cannot currently be linked to overseas travel; this means that New Zealand may be experiencing local transmission but as yet we are not sure. She announced the new, four level COVID-19 alert system and put New Zealand at Alert Level 2. She announced that all people who are ‘at risk’, in relation to COVID-19, should stay home unless absolutely necessary for them to go out. My 86 year old mother was in the car with us as we listened and wondered whether we should be driving anywhere at all. She announced that New Zealanders should limit domestic travel to reduce spread – our worlds are reducing very quickly from international freedom, to national roaming, to staying home.
The strange cast that hangs over this whole experience, very much taking me back to our Canterbury earthquake experiences, is that the radio is still playing, the apples are still ripening, the sky is still blue, and the world is still spinning. But the world in my head is spinning much faster.