Who knew that a 1.8m diameter table would be such an appropriate size? When we bought it, our goal was to have lots of people sitting around it – we are accustomed to a constant stream of visitors given that we live so close to the (once-was) tourism capital of New Zealand. We may look sadly back on the days when we had visitors every week, including a panoply of international friends and soon-to-be friends.
On the other hand, we feel a sense of hope that local councillors are already calling for the future to look nothing like the old normal; over the last 5 years Queenstown had become more a place to avoid than a place to visit. It was seething with people who you would never see again, dispersing local community to the point that it no longer connected, clogging roads and sewers and becoming a cancerous growth that, apparently, couldn’t be stopped. It seems surreal that, only a month ago, we were still hotly debating whether the Queenstown airport could expand its noise boundaries in order to double its 2.5 million passenger throughput (in a country of 5 million!) over the next 8 years. Last Friday, the last flight for an indeterminate time passed overhead – Air NZ is only flying to 5 national centres and we aren’t included (not that we would be allowed to go on flights if we were included).
But back to the tea party…a major step in this neighbourhood. People in cities can yell to their neighbours across the fence or from the end of their driveway. But those of us in the country, while blessed with space in which to move, are not so blessed with occasional human interactions outside our home bubbles. Our neighbours Kerrin and Kirsty have been living on their block of land in a caravan, so we offered them the use of our self-contained barn accommodation 100m from our house, to give them a bit more space in the lockdown. However, in the spirit of the New Zealand, minimise-your-bubble, governmental advice, we have been keeping strictly separate. After 11 days, with Kerrin and Kirsty going nowhere and Chris going to the supermarket once, we felt that a 2m separation (measured by the table) could be a sufficient barrier while allowing more social interaction, particularly for Mum who is not getting to go anywhere.
Preparations for a COVID-19 tea party are rather more complex than a normal morning tea. First you have to tell your guests to bring their own chairs and their own tea. You can’t have them contaminating your chairs. Second, you have to wipe down your table so you don’t contaminate their tea cups (and afterwards so they don’t contaminate yours later). Now, you want to be sociable and provide scones. You go to the internet to check what temperature is required to kill a coronavirus. Little research has been done specifically on COVID-19 as yet, but cooking at over 70deg C has been found to kill coronaviruses. Scones are ok; I carefully removed them from the oven with a sterilised cloth and turned my head away as I carried them out to drop the visitor’s tray on the ground (scones were cooked on different trays for the two sides of the table).
We stayed on our opposite sides of the table till after lunch time, till we all got hungry again and a bit cold, as the clouds obscured the sun. We talked about COVID-19, travel (or not), economics, life and futures. One day we will all be able to meet a whole lot of other people in person again….
On the factual front, New Zealand’s disease focus now is contact tracing at the next critical part of the pandemic management picture. New Zealand is going really well with its testing regime – we have significantly stepped up our numbers of tests since I last wrote about this to around 3000 a day with <3% returning a positive finding. The discussion is getting going on how best to track people’s movements so that we can know who COVID-19 sufferers might have infected, using technology (as well as more manual systems). This tack is starting to concern me. I guess that frames up what I might write about tomorrow, see you then.