Steve Braunias on the second anniversary of Covid in New Zealand

Covid, always bloody old Covid, the central fact of all our lives, driving us indoors, driving us mad – Monday marks an unhappy second anniversary of its awesome power in these islands. On March 14, 2020, the Government announced anyone entering New Zealand must self-isolate for 14 days, except those arriving from the Pacific. It was the first-ever actual and official response to the pandemic. Five days later, borders were closed to everyone except New Zealand citizens, and indoor gatherings of more than 100 people were cancelled. On March 25, at 11.59pm, we went into lockdown. Those were the days! It was new, exciting, kind of thrilling. No one really had any idea of what to expect. No one knew it would turn out like this.

Covid, the worst word in all our mouths, those two unpleasant syllables, spoken every single day these past two years. No one knew it would turn out like … what, exactly? The Age of Omicron is like we’re in some kind of psychic lockdown. The regulations have been removed, the borders are open. You can go about your business. But many of us are leading pseudo-lockdown lives, hunkering down in faux-lockdown homes, especially in Auckland, the Covid isthmus.

Covid, running wild, wildly popular, Auckland’s wildest trend. Everyone in Auckland knows someone who has or who has had Omicron. A few weeks ago there was a statistic that said one in 50 Aucklanders would get it, and last week that statistic was updated to one in 18. It is what it is, whatever the exact figure is; we get on with it, we do what we can, we mask up and sanitise and all the rest, we look out for one another, we don’t go around catastrophising or sensationalising or even worrying all that much, because it’s here, it’s everywhere, it’s a daily grind of catastrophic statistics. Headline, Thursday: “True cases probably 500,000 to 1 million, but less crucial than hospital cases, public health expert says”. God almighty.

Covid, with its heavy presence, its contagion, its spread… Yeah, over it, bro, but what can you do? You can go mad. You can stage the Occupation of the Cenotaph. That actually looked like a lot of fun. There was a wedding! There was music, face-painting, sausages. It was something to do, it was a very attractive proposition. It got you out of the house, it got you into the pages of history. It put you with other people who also had the courage to make a stand, it put you in the middle of a movement. It got you mocked and thought of as dupes of sinister forces, it reinforced your notion that the media and the government are one and the same thing. It was a chance for the Government and the media to take your concerns seriously, it was an alternative narrative. It was massively deranged, it achieved nothing.

Covid, in Year Three, still front page, still leading the news hour, still a thing with no sign, really, of ever stopping. New Zealand academic site The Conversation: “SARS-CoV-2 spreads easily through the air. Even people who aren’t experiencing any symptoms can pass the coronavirus to others. These factors, along with today’s heavily interconnected global society, make it unlikely Covid-19 is going away completely anytime soon.” Associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, Dr Jeanne Noble, in US site Health: “I don’t think Covid is likely to go away, and it’s not likely to be eliminated, and certainly not likely to be eradicated. It’s not impossible that we won’t have a different variant that is actually more violent or causes more serious disease … We will continue to have variants that will threaten us in various ways; but as population immunity grows and grows with each of these variants, we’re hoping it will just become a non-issue.” Key word from that quote, as we mark Year Three of a lousy anniversary: hope.

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