I am not a great fan of roller coasters, probably because I get motion sick. It might also be because I like a degree of skill to be associated with my terror. My early memory of a rollercoaster type experiences was at the local A&P show where Mum put my brother and me on a ride as a treat. We started screaming as the ride commenced and screamed constantly for the entire remainder while Mum watched helpless from the ground. The badness of rollercoasters was then reemphasised for me when the Edmonton rollercoaster derailed in 1986 and decapitated 3 punters. I remember this event because that same year I visited the shopping centre in which the rollercoaster was now being dismantled (that was something for a New Zealander…a rollercoaster in a shopping mall!) and imagined the people’s heads being chopped off.
The COVID-19 ride feels like a roller coaster at times too. There are the ups and the downs…and the ups and the … First off this week was the downer that Auckland would stay in Level 3 lockdown for an extra four days. I admit this is a lot more a downer for Aucklanders than Gibbstoners, but we were looking forward to a visit from a group of Auckland friends who were due to arrive the day immediately after lockdown ended. The extension of the lockdown seemed justified at one level, although the numbers of new cases also seemed rather small. In addition, the majority of new cases are being found in contacts of the original cases, therefore are in people who are already self-isolating. The good side of the bad news was that modelling team leader, Shaun Hendy of Te Punaha Matatini, went on record saying that the small numbers of infections being seen are good news. Another good side is that only one of the cases found has been proven to originate outside of what is being termed ‘the Auckland cluster’ (to join the Matamata Pub and the Bluff wedding in infamy). With the many thousands of tests being carried out, if COVID-19 was spreading silently in our population it would have most likely turned up.
A definition up of the week was the news that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has approved a saliva-based test for COVID-19. A scientist originally from New Zealand is even involved. The FDA is often one of the first jurisdictions to approve new diagnostic procedures as the USA is one of the biggest markets for things medical. The new test is being provided by SalivaDirect and will have the outstanding advantage of not putting people off the idea of being tested because a cotton bud will be stuck way up into the back of their nose (even if minor deity Bloomfield says it isn’t too bad). There are other saliva tests out there but this one also has the advantage of using a new processing method which reduces time and cost while delivering accuracy. Even better researchers have made the processing protocol freely available on the web to facilitate it being used more widely.
Another down this week was the news that a first person has been proven to be reinfected with COVID-19. A man tested positive on returning to Hong Kong from Spain. Sequencing of the virus showed that he has a different strain from that which made him ill in March. The up side to this down could be that he had no symptoms from the current infection (he only had mild symptoms the first time around). There is hope that the lack of symptoms the second time around points to people being able to develop immunity to COVID-19 for some period of time. It is important to note, however, that one swallow doesn’t make a summer and one COVID-19 reinfection doesn’t make a disaster – the proof will be in the pudding of multiple sufferers and whether more of them get reinfected or whether this person is a special case.
And finally, in some news that one could find entertaining, if not uplifting, on 16 August, a clown sang a song after the Argentine Ministry of Health made their daily announcement of COVID-19 cases and deaths. In Argentina’s slight defence, it was El Dià del Niño – Children’s Day – and there was often another guest on the Ministry of Health announcements. The general reaction of Argentines, however, was not good and the hashtag #GovernmentDePayasos (Government of Clowns) quickly started doing the rounds.
Despite one’s first reaction to the thought of clowns associated with COVID-19, I ask, should New Zealand entertain the thought of a clown coming onto our national broadcasts following Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield in their briefing? The Clown Doctors advertise that therapeutic humour is helpful in a healing process. We are all on a stressful rollercoaster ride to an unknown destination…who knows, maybe a regular clown briefing might help (as long as the clown didn’t have orange hair and an American accent)?