Who has memories of being in the car on the journey to the long awaited holiday destination? ‘Are we nearly there yet’ is the phrase that might have resulted in your parents’ temper boiling over. And it might be the phrase that results in your temper boiling over if you currently have children of your own. Can’t the children check the map themselves? Do they not remember that the trip was going to take till dinner time and we haven’t yet stopped for lunch? And could they, just for once, stop poking their sibling till they squeal?
After the Canterbury earthquakes there was a similar aura of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, as people overseas asked whether Christchurch was back to normal while the earthquakes continued to strike. When would we be there? And where might ‘there’ actually be ? The nature of ‘there’ became ever less clear as we moved towards it. In the beginning, ‘there’ was a return to pre-earthquake ‘normality’. Later on, ‘there’ for many was a house that insurance had paid to fix, while a functional city was a dream on the far off horizon.
The question of ‘Are we nearly there?’ is starting to arise in regard to COVID-19, together with the distinctly depressing feeling that we are most likely nowhere near ‘there’. At the beginning of the pandemic we were all reacting as the situation changed day by day. As we came down through the Alert Levels we had a feeling of success, we were returning to normality and we liked it. Now we have been in Alert Level 1 for nearly two months and our heads are sufficiently above water that we can wonder where we are at.
Many of us now get to live relatively normal New Zealand lives, only lacking the opportunity to travel overseas or have friends/family visit from overseas. However, we have the spectre of other country’s descent back to lockdowns to contend with. Australia is no more ‘The Lucky Country‘ with their descent back down the snakes of COVID-19 spread. While earlier people were questioning whether a less stringent ‘Australia-style’ lockdown might have been better for the New Zealand economy, the majority of New Zealanders’ thoughts regarding Oz are, ‘Please don’t let that happen to us’. A relaxed attitude to COVID-19 is a slippery, snakey slope down which one does not want to slide. Australian border guards supposedly slept with newly returned travellers, driving community transmission; in New Zealand people leap the fences in our isolation facilities and it won’t take many slip-ups for community spread to raise its ugly head again here.
It was with relief that I saw today’s news highlighting further steps being taken to ensure that people in 2 weeks of quarantine stay in quarantine. However, it was with a good deal less relief that I saw (minor deity) Ashley Bloomfield and epidemiologist David Skegg saying that further waves of community transmission of COVID-19 are ‘not if, but when’. Another lockdown? A 6 week lockdown like Melbourne? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must if we are to take the actions (including getting tested for COVID-19 if symptomatic) that are essential to preventing community spread.
In the last week I have been thinking, if we are not even close to ‘nearly there’, how do we survive and thrive in this uncertain future? And what is ‘there’? Is it a world free of COVID-19? That seems increasingly unlikely in my lifetime. Is it a world with a vaccine for COVID-19? That is only seeming averagely likely in any meaningful way. One thing I am becoming increasingly sure of is that ‘there’ doesn’t look like ‘before’ and that the nature of ‘there’ remains opaque to our present.
Given the lack of clarity around ‘there’ and our point on our trajectory, for the meantime I am reverting to my behaviours and comforts of early lockdown – if you can’t control the big picture, focus on the small stuff, the stuff you can control and the stuff you can enjoy. Play the guitar every day and love the practice. Focus right down at the level of enjoying this minute, this person, this landscape, this dinner. I went out for a run and tried to send my mind into the landscape and away from current events; this is the only time I will ever have this particular day, in this particular scenery with this light…at this moment I am only here and ‘there’ is a problem for another time.