When dawn broke this morning I wished I hadn’t looked at my phone as I plugged it in last night. If I had just ignored the screen I could have woken up ignorant of New Zealand’s descent back down the COVID-19 Alert Levels (and had a better sleep too). I was all full of ideas about what I might write today, buoyed by having a fantastic mountain bike ride with a group of really good female riders. And then COVID-19 broke into my sunny reality with a crash.
People overseas might be wondering why New Zealanders are getting so agitated about a whole 4 new cases of COVID-19. It’s because we have had 102 days with no community transmission and have been enjoying socialising freely at all scales, and (possibly misguidedly) making plans for the future that included plenty more socialising and working without fear or restraint. Then late yesterday we get told that at midday today Auckland is going back into lockdown-lite (Alert Level 3) and the rest of the country is moving to Alert Level 2, restricting movement and socialising. This is not the end of the world, or even of the country, but it is a step backwards that no-one wanted to have to take.
Today the news got worse, the family in which yesterday’s 4 cases were identified turns out to go to two reasonable size workplaces, have a child at a primary school in Auckland and have gone to Rotorua for a holiday weekend, while symptomatic. It is certain that there will be more cases, and another 4 symptomatic probables were identified today, who have been associated with that family. You have to be impressed by the infectiousness of this disease!
Government and health officials have been diligent about telling us that it was certain we would have community transmission again (not if, but when), but, as usual, there is a massive gulf between knowing something intellectually and knowing it viscerally. We have watched Melbourne lock down in stages, so we thought we knew what it might be like. However, I find I want to say to the non-existent deity, “OK, got it now, visceral knowledge of COVID-19 resurgence is right up there in my brain!, now can we find that it was a false alarm?”
It isn’t surprising that we have new community transmission, on more than one level. We had been getting relaxed about a whole lot of things related to COVID-19. I actually got a bit stressed when we stayed with friends in Auckland. He wasn’t feeling well and was feeling hot…feverish? He said his son had been quite sick, and in fact took Chris to the house his son was at (we were staying somewhere else but with this person and a partner). He wouldn’t go to bed but insisted on cooking dinner for us. What should I have done? I suggested that a COVID-19 test might be in order for the son, but didn’t get any traction on that front. Should I have left and found somewhere else to stay? Should I have been more insistent about them getting tested. After staying at their place I felt worried, as in the early days of lockdown, when every slight soreness in your throat or shivery feeling makes you want to take your temperature and see if you might be ill. Two weeks passed with no real symptoms, and no news that those Auckland people had got sicker, and I could relax on that front. However, I still don’t know what the social ideal is in this situation…suggestions welcome!
I think many of us have been slack about symptoms that could be of COVID-19, because you can’t maintain vigilance forever. And we have been slack at hand-washing – who has been dutifully washing their hands regularly for 2 minutes each time? I certainly can’t claim moral superiority on that front! I have kept a very rudimentary list of where I have been, mostly through my calendar but nothing like covering every time I have contacted people I don’t know. I have tried to visibly sign in where COVID-19 sign-ins have been displayed. This has the dual function of recording my presence there and, hopefully, inspiring others to do the same. However, many businesses haven’t had signs to scan (I think it is a good thing that the government is making it mandatory that businesses have signs at all entry points within a week). So, really, there are no surprises that community transmission has reoccurred.
We also know that our health system has already geared up. They are undertaking contact tracing and getting those contacts to self-isolate, they are setting up testing stations and testing everyone who deals with the border. Shaun Hendy’s Te Punaha Matatini team started modelling potential spread yesterday afternoon to inform government action (Shaun said when he was called he hoped that it was a drill). There is a good chance that our early action, compared to that in Melbourne, will have the same results as our first efforts but at lower cost. However knowing the likelihood that this would happen, and knowing about the action taking place doesn’t make one iota of difference to my feeling pretty rattled today.