Covid-19 has entered our country and one of the best decisions made by our Prime Minister was to close our borders to give our country a chance to protect our communities. It is also a good time to take stock of resources we have locally and consider ways we can support our community, particularly those who are vulnerable and susceptible.
We are far from seeing the end of Covid-19. We have barely begun to feel its wrath.
I am reminded of two major events in our history where lessons have been learnt and these events could be used as a reference point for members in our community to perhaps characterise some similarities with Covid-19.
The first event I will briefly comment on is the impact of the Spanish Influenza in the Pacific, including New Zealand.
In 1918, a ship carrying the disease docked in Samoa and the disease spread rapidly, wiping a quarter of the population.
About 8500 Samoan people died as a result of the Spanish Influenza.
The ship also docked in Tonga and Fiji and between 5 and 8% of their populations died as a result.
In New Zealand, about 8600 people died at a time when the population was 1 million. The lack of immunity people had against this disease, coupled with the nature of the health infrastructure at the time, contributed markedly to the mortality rate.
I am also reminded of the Poliomyelitis epidemic in New Zealand in 1916. More than 1000 people were infected and about 125 children died as a result.
Jean Ross had undertaken research on the history of Polio in New Zealand. Interestingly, the social impact and response almost mirrors what we have with Covid-19.
This included consistent messaging encouraging the community to adhere to health precautions, quarantine periods and closures of public spaces, including schools, to reduce the spread of the virus.
There is no room for complacency when it comes to a pandemic and we need to ensure we retain a sense of urgency and adhere to the health precautions recommended by health officials. It will help our community fight against Covid-19. It will help us to maintain our safety and even save lives.
Naturally, there is anxiety and fear among us, but what we can do as a community is to continue to support each other through this extraordinary event.
We remember the lessons learnt from major historical events that had catastrophic impacts globally. We use these lessons to make sure we put plans and processes in place to reduce the harm of Covid-19.
We are fortunate to have a thriving, resilient and diverse community in Waitaki, and what has been particularly noticeable is the strong sense of community spirit that has arisen from the perils of Covid-19.
We need to call on our shared sense of humanity to guide us through this period.
We see the impact of social media and the relevance of utilising this as a platform for communication to distribute really important messaging. Facebook pages and posts have been developed by willing members of our community to support our elderly and immunocompromised. We see offers of grocery and medicine pickups, baking, cooking meals and practical support volunteered by members in our community. Even children offering to deliver information to people’s mailboxes.
Our local churches have considered alternative ways to provide spiritual support in a time of need, cooking meals to support social service agencies.
Supermarket staff are working overtime to make sure their shelves remain stocked, and pharmacies are offering deliveries.
Then came the Prime Minister’s announcement escalating the nation’s alert level to three, then, within 48 hours, the whole country would be in lockdown.
Surreal as it is, our community needs to pool together our courage and resolve.
It is even more important to remember those in our community who don’t have access to social media and rely on family members, neighbours, friends, churches and support agencies to make regular contact with them.
Do make an effort to check in, give them a ring and be present and available to offer support. Particularly those who are in self-isolation. We need to take care of our mental health and that of others.
Be creative in our methods to stay in touch with each other. Also remember our health workers that are exposed to risk daily and our educators who continue to teach our children.
Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures and we are an extraordinary community and one that I am proud to be a part of.
May our collective awareness and collaborative preparedness be our sharpest tools to help mitigate the effects and impact of Covid-19 in Waitaki.
In a time of uncertainty, we need to be clear on how we keep our community safe.
This is our reference point, our bottom line.
Be kind to one another as we chart, weave and direct the course for how our community responds to this event.
God bless you all.
Fa’afetai lava, malo aupito, Nga mihi nui katou katoa.
- Hana Halalele is a Waitaki district councillor, president of the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group Inc and a mentor at Waitaki Girls’ High School.