(First published in The Dominion Post and on Stuff.co.nz, April 2.)
The man who edits this page sensibly suggested in an email to columnists last week that readers might appreciate a break from the constant bombardment with comment about Covid-19. But really, what can you do? To use an old expression, it’s the only game in town.
Here, then, are a few random musings to add to the hubbub.
■ The Covid-19 crisis truly merits the adjective “epochal”. Like the two world wars, the 1918 influenza epidemic and the Great Depression, it has the potential to define an era and leave a mark that will endure for decades. The world will look and feel quite different when we eventually come out the other side. We don’t yet know how it will be different; we just know that it will be. Already things feel very different from how they were only two weeks ago, and we have no idea where we will end up. In fact not knowing is the hardest part. It may be a cliché to say we’re in uncharted territory, but there’s a reason why clichés become clichés. It’s because they usually express a truth.
■ On a cosmic level, Covid-19 is a humbling slap-down. It reminds us that we’re not masters of the universe, as we liked to think. For all its immense sophistication and achievement, medical science suddenly looks almost puny against a malignant force of nature. For its part, the global economy has been exposed as being far more fragile than anyone imagined. And note how quickly some countries have rediscovered their nationalistic impulses, retreating into their shells and closing borders. We can only hope this doesn’t translate into the revival of historic rivalries, suspicions and enmities.
■ New Zealand is better placed than most countries to deal with this crisis. We’re an intimate, cohesive society with a strong sense of communal solidarity. We haven’t become so cynical that we can’t still harness the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit that used to keep the populace energised during telethons (remember them?). That’s one reason people were so unhappy about the forced closure of free community papers. These hyper-local papers are the only ones many people see. They are important not only as a means of keeping people informed about local affairs but also for making them feel connected to the wider community, which is never more valuable than at a time when many are feeling anxious and isolated. It was one of the government’s few missteps and the partial backdown announced on Tuesday doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.
■ Even within my own social sphere, I’m aware of people having to cope with painful personal consequences arising from Covid-19. In one instance, a family lost a husband and father when he died during what was expected to be routine surgery. Hospital visits had been banned, so they never saw him in his final days, and to compound their grief there was no funeral. In another case, a friend who was in the habit of visiting his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife every day can no longer do so because the rest home where she’s a resident had no option but to go into lockdown. Husband and wife are thus prevented from spending precious daily time together, and no one can say when – or even if – things will return to normal. Sad circumstances such as these will be causing anguish throughout the country.
■ Everyone’s trying hard not to politicise Covid-19, but it needs to be said that so far, Jacinda Ardern and her top-tier team have handled the crisis commendably enough to almost guarantee a second term, should this year’s election go ahead. That “so far” is an important qualifier, though. There’s still a long way to go, and a difficult balance to be struck between decisive government and heavy-handed interference in personal freedoms. Watch this space.
■ What an ironic paradox that at a time when people might feel the need to turn to religion for hope, comfort and reassurance, church doors are closed. A golden marketing opportunity missed, a cynic might say.
■ Hardship can take multiple forms. Many New Zealanders would never dream of patronising McDonald’s or KFC, but for a significant demographic group, fast food is a staple. They’ll be suffering now that it’s denied them. Good, you might say; perhaps the lockdown will break bad eating habits – but that doesn’t necessarily follow. I feel sorry for them.
■ All news media should make a point of regularly highlighting the number of people who have been treated for Covid-19 and recovered. It’s a small thing, but an important reminder that it’s not a death sentence. Many victims experience only mild symptoms and are over it within a few days.
■ We have a large, cheerful-looking teddy bear in our lounge window. Regular readers will know I’m not usually a teddy-bear type of guy, but children passing with their parents on the footpath point and smile when they see him. That can only be a good thing.