This week saw me variably succeeding and failing in some of those difficult personal conversations that happen all the time in close relationships. The COVID world has taken its toll on all our brains, as well as many bodies, and stress and anxiety are rampant. I was reminded of a first aid class in which we were told, “First take a bite of your hamburger”. The first aid tutor was an ex-fireman who was in one of the New York fire crews which attended the Twin Towers bombing fires. His very memorable principle was that, before moving into an emergency scene, one should have a metaphorical hamburger bite, calming down, assessing the scene, pausing before acting and separating emotion from action.
Having a pause before reacting in emotional situations is a great idea, and a very hard one to implement. Someone makes a statement and your brain leaps to an emotional conclusion before you have even processed their words. Practice at hamburger biting does improve the odds of a pause, but practice does not yet appear to make perfect!
Another reaction I noticed this week was in my mother’s retirement village in Christchurch, to the announcement that Wellington is moving into COVID Level 2. Your temperature needs to be checked before you enter, you need to wear a mask during your visit and you have to fill in a form with a barrage of questions that increases every time. And the system, irritatingly, cannot remember you unless you are a contractor, so you get to check if you are developing dementia and forgetting your name on a very regular basis. We have not yet tested the consequences of saying “Yes” to a question like, “Have you been in contact with someone from a bubble country”. We know that answering yes means that you are supposed to contact the Village Manager (which makes one feel like a school child with the threat of a visit to the principal hanging over you). What we don’t know is what she might say, but who wants to find out? As always, the risk of an unpleasant interaction is likely to result in people not telling the truth!
Mum’s retirement village has now vaccinated all the residents who can be vaccinated, so the residents are as protected as they are going to get. At what point will we be accepting that COVID may ‘sneak in’ (given that it is a ‘tricky virus’, as we have heard now reiterated more times than enough)? Perhaps the village is waiting for its cue from government, telling them that we are shifting in our approach to COVID. Obviously a significant shift in approach is not likely, or warranted, until a significant proportion of the population are vaccinated. However, the degree of reaction that is now engendered by the possibility of community transmission – there is no actual transmission yet documented in Wellington – has escalated significantly from our first experiences of Level 2 and this is going to make the situation harder to reel back to one of less control. Are retirement village operators biting hamburgers? Or are they leaping into action first? And who else is in that camp? People in all parts of society are subject to the same degree of stress.
The news of the Wellington bubble breakage was certainly news of the week in New Zealand, whereas a single case of COVID-19 leaving a country would not be on the media radar in most parts of the world. An Australian visitor, who came with his partner for two days, visited a considerable number of places in Wellington including bars, and then flew back out leaving chaos in his wake. Many of those who were baying for the border to be open, to ‘save’ our economy, are now baying for the government to act quickly enough (but not too harshly) in order to prevent our ‘economy saving’ actions from having dire, but unsurprising, consequences. One really doesn’t envy Government ministers, or Director Generals of Health, in these situations.
Now we hold our collective breaths, praying we will again be ‘lucky’ and this case will not lead to community transmission. The visitor had had a first vaccination, we hope that will have reduced his likelihood to shed virus particles. We had the good news that there is no COVID-19 in Wellington wastewater testing, and the visitor’s close contacts are still testing negative. However, we also have had the not so good, if expected, news, that he has the COVID delta variant which has an R0 of around 5 (as opposed to 2 for the ‘wild type’ COVID), meaning it is considerably more infectious. The country, and particularly Wellington, will now wait to see if any infections appear. If they do, Wellington can expect further restrictive measures. If they don’t…we will see how many bites of the hamburger our politicians have been taking. Hopefully they have good hamburgers in Wellington.