Can you remember what you were doing a couple of weeks ago? You know the day – Friday the 13th, unlucky for some… though it was a pretty good day, for me. I started it in Dunedin where I did a radio interview, then attended the Otago Mayoral Forum before travelling back to Oamaru to catch up on some work. Next I headed to Omarama for the start of the 50th Anniversary Wajax Competition, a firefighting challenge which had attracted 25 teams from around Southland and Otago. Just another day on the job with some travel thrown in.
But then the next day, that all changed.
The PM made the announcement that COVID-19 was becoming an even greater risk to the people of New Zealand, and that we needed greater restrictions to people’s travel, including much stricter requirements to self-isolate if returning from overseas. It took some time to sink in. ”Was she mad?” people asked… “This is so over the top!” they said….
As we all know now, it wasn’t over the top at all. In fact if anything, it was later than it should have been and the path towards self-isolation of the whole population has come around in just one and a half weeks! The daily changes to our routines have come faster than an ODT reporter onto a good tip! And it has taken a good proportion of the population by surprise. Some scenes of minor panic ensued, particularly at the supermarkets. Until that announcement on the 14th, I’d been pleased to see in Waitaki the southern attribute of taking a relaxed stance when faced with a problem. But after the announcements, it seemed like half of the population turned into preppers – hoarding food and other supplies for a two year stint away from civilisation!
Then we stepped it up a notch…
On the 23rd of March when the Prime Minister announced that we were moving from Level 2 to Level 3 with a move 48hrs later to Level 4, and the reactions were even worse. I never thought we would have situations in Waitaki where supermarkets would need police to sort out ‘shoppers’ but we did that day. Despite plenty of information letting people know that there was an excellent supply of food and that there wouldn’t be any problems accessing food during self-isolation, some people went just a bit crazy. Most people through this crisis have been kind, courteous, and even generous. That is what we are used to seeing, but hearing about superannuitants missing out on the small amounts of food they were at the supermarket for, and people getting pushed out of the way was seriously disturbing.
The previous messages that there was no need to panic buy, and no need to hoard food went out the window along with common sense. Unfortunately people have suffered as a consequence. I feel for the staff who had to put up with the bad behaviour, and it’s heartbreaking that there were elderly folk who couldn’t get the supplies they needed when they were already advised to be self-isolating, not to mention people on tight budgets, and the workers and rural people who don’t get many opportunities to get their groceries. It’s damn hard when you can finally get to the supermarket and there are little or no choices for the things you need.
Enough of the negativity though. As I said before there are so many people keen to do whatever they can to help others and that generosity of spirit is to be celebrated. Some will be out volunteering and ensuring people have what they need, so that we don’t have anyone falling through the gaps. Over the next month or so, the best thing the rest of us can do for each other is stay home. When we do have to go out, don’t take children to the supermarket, don’t let them play with other kids, if you go running or walking, don’t walk or run with others who aren’t in your home ‘bubble’. To properly break the community spread of COVID-19, we need to keep our distance from others.
If we can do that and still get some exercise in, then we will all be better off. If we can’t follow the basic rules then the consequences will likely be that going out for a walk has to be banned, that going to a park or the public gardens will be banned, and the other small freedoms that we have during this time will be gone. As the social media meme goes – For the first time in our history, we can save the world by staying at home and relaxing – let’s not stuff this up!
I will continue working over the month, as it is a chance to get on top of my workload and I’m looking forward to that. There will still be meetings though they will be done online with video conference calls. I’m already part of a weekly meeting with my fellow Canterbury Mayors, a weekly meeting with other southern Mayors and senior staff of the Southern DHB, and I will be setting up one or two meetings per week with our Councillors and senior staff. Technology can be a curse, but it can be pretty handy at times as well.
I know many others who will be carrying on work from their homes. It is a new way of working for many, but generally it will be fine. Not all jobs can be done from home though which means different things for different people, depending on whether they are in an essential industry or not.
Social isolation is a major concern, so please take the time to connect with friends and family, not just via messages and texts, but via the phone, or better still, via video if you can. The more you can do this, the better you will get through this. And you can still talk with neighbours over the fence, just stay 2m apart and you will be fine. If you don’t usually talk with your neighbours, perhaps now is the time to start… If you are with family, take the time to connect with fun activities. For those parents with school age kids, keep them entertained with some school work, though that usually works best if it is disguised as a game! I’m sure you know the tricks already. If you have elderly neighbours next door, please take the time to check on them, once again keeping a safe distance for your sake and theirs.
We are living in a rather extraordinary time, and that requires some extraordinary measures. I wish you and your family all the best over the next month or so. Please take care and stay safe. Do the right things and you will be helping to save lives. Most of all, please stay calm, enjoy the special moments that you will hopefully experience over the next month, and if you need help, contact any of the groups which have been set up to provide help. Contact numbers are in the full page public notice that the Council has taken in this edition of the Oamaru Mail. Again, all the best for the month ahead – we can do it!
- Gary Kircher is the Waitaki Mayor.