BY ETHAN GRIFFITHS
New Zealand is in crisis.
Last week, our Prime Minister made a call that is absolutely unprecedented in our history. Our country is to come to a halt for the next four weeks. Businesses will close their doors, schools will shut, and every single New Zealander who doesn’t work in essential services must self-isolate in their homes. Not even last week did anyone assume this would happen, and only four short months ago, the word ‘corona’ was solely associated with beer. How did we get to this point, and what does it mean for you?
On January 9th, China began to report a unique and unknown disease to international health authorities, after fifty people were diagnosed with a rare pneumonia type disease. It was dubbed Covid-19, a member of the coronavirus type of disease, and it was suspected to have been caused by a man eating a bat which was carrying the disease. A week later, a person dies. The virus then spread like wildfire through the Chinese city of Wuhan. New Zealanders caught up in Wuhan were evacuated in a mercy flight organised by the government. Two weeks later, thousands in China had the disease, and it’s declared a public health emergency of international concern. By the end of February, the disease had spread to over 100 countries, arriving in New Zealand by a woman who had recently travelled to Iran. At the time of writing, there are 589 confirmed and/or probable cases in New Zealand, and the Prime Minister has indicated that number is expected to rise dramatically.
Deserted streets. Photo by Ethan Griffiths.
For Kiwis, the significance of this challenge simply cannot be overstated. Not only is it obviously a public health emergency, but the effect on our economy is likely to be the largest most people have seen in their lifetimes. New Zealand has closed it’s borders, which renders our substantial tourism sector practically useless for the time being. Without tourists, mixed as well with the ongoing fear of the virus with locals, no one is going to cafes or restaurants, causing hundreds of job losses and even some to fall over. Sporting events are banned, as are funerals and weddings, and now with practically every business in New Zealand being made to shut their doors with everyone locked away at home, no one is spending money. It is nothing short of disastrous.
To combat both the health and economic aspects of the virus, the government has made decisions that no government previously has ever had to grapple with. A week ago, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson announced an economic relief package the likes of something New Zealand had never seen before. Over $12 billion was announced to make sure Kiwi businesses don’t fall over, and an increase to weekly benefits of $25 was also announced. The decision was labelled the “largest investment of our lifetime” by the Prime Minister. A few days later, the government bailed out Air New Zealand with a $900 million loan, after cutting 90% of its flights and laying off over 3000 staff. In the public health sector, after announcing a move to Alert Level 4, bringing the country into complete lockdown, the Prime Minister announced a nationwide state of emergency, giving police and the military more powers to maintain order and keep the country safe.
Traffic has come to a stop in Auckland. Photo by Ethan Griffiths.
At 11:59pm last Wednesday night, we took biggest step yet, moving into complete lockdown for at least four weeks. Everyone is expected to go home and self isolate, except for those in essential businesses, such as supermarket workers, doctors, nurses and the media. There is to be no travel, no shopping, no catching up with mates for brunch. It is self isolation, with the simple goal of flattening the infection curve. It is undoubtedly going to be hard, but it is also undoubtedly necessary.
It’s only three and a half months since the disease infected its first victims, and under a month since it arrived in New Zealand, and we are all in a place we never expected, nor wanted to be. This next month will likely be one of the most difficult tests of our lives. It takes what we consider a normal life and tips it completely on its head.. It will be weird, it will be scary and it will be frustrating, but we all have a responsibility to make sure it works.
Stay safe, look after your loved ones, and do the right thing. Kia Kaha New Zealand.
Ethan is a young, passionate and a wannabe babysitter for Neve Ardern, Ethan won’t stop talking about politics. Likes a bit of cricket, wearing trendy ties and is in love with Jeff the purple wiggle.