Returning to the not-so-smug hermit kingdom

Signing the last summit book on a bright morning to finish walking
Impromptu concert in the last koča of our hike – international audience from Slovenia, Netherlands, UK, Spain, France, Belgium.

We have been out of New Zealand for two months, hard to believe it is that long, and it is time to go back. The fears we had when we came to Europe have not come to pass, so I am hoping the same of our return. When we left for Europe people asked concernedly about the proximity of the fighting in Ukraine. People asked what our plans were for when we got COVID (which were stay somewhere till we were better). I worried about getting back to New Zealand if a more deadly strain of COVID evolved and spread.

The fighting in the Ukraine continues, but has not (yet) escalated beyond the borders of Ukraine. It has seemed quite amazing that a war could be taking place that is physically closer to us now, than Auckland is to Queenstown, but which is invisible from the ground on which we stand. The only signs of the war we have seen were the Berlin train station assistance point for refugees and banners against the war in Prague.

Of COVID we have seen and heard very little. The topic of COVID has come up in more in depth conversations with existing or new friends, but since we got to Slovenia it feels like COVID has disappeared. Of course I know it hasn’t, but that’s how it feels and it feels very nice! I can see why an NZ journalist wrote a recent article about a trip to Australia and how everything feels normal and why can’t New Zealand feel normal. I can see why people in New Zealand want the constant furor about COVID to die down, because I do too. It is great to have spent 6 weeks in an environment where every conversation doesn’t contain COVID in some manner and there are no constant reminders in the form of signs or masks. When I search the internet for articles on COVID in Slovenia I come up blank – people here are not currently very interested.

However, the World Health Organisation is warning against complacency as COVID infections rise again, largely driven by Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. together with lifting of public health measures in many places. These variants are very good at evading immune protection so not are they only infecting people who have not yet had COVID, they are infecting a considerable number of people who have. Many countries are encouraging older and more vulnerable citizens to have a second booster shot. The WHO is suggesting countries reintroduce mask mandates as a good public health measure to reduce spread.

I had a look at graphs of COVID cases in different countries to see if any patterns fell out, but they didn’t. A rise in cases is apparent in many places but not universally at the rates of increase of the early Omicron wave (NZ, Australia, France vs UK, USA, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain). I thought there might be a relationship between season and the rate of rise of the upswing of cases but that wasn’t visible. However, we do feel like it is easier to theoretically avoid COVID in a place that is in summer, because there is little reason to congregate inside with people. It might also be more obvious who to avoid because there aren’t many people with other respiratory illnesses!

In the end, we will be back in New Zealand for better or worse and to get COVID or not. The numbers of people we know who haven’t yet had COVID are ever diminishing and we feel like our luck must run out at some point. For anyone reading this who says, “But you guys are strong and fit and have good immune systems so you are less likely to get it.”, I would say, “But I got shingles when I was hiking in Slovenia, which is supposedly a sign of a suppressed immune system, so it might be more like luck and living in a rural area!”. What I would more like to be immune to is the creeping fear that the protection measures in New Zealand constantly introduce into one’s brain. However, I fear that is an impossibility.

How about this for a destination?

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

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