It’s easy to feel like everything is a little bit apocalyptic at the moment – maximum alert levels, self-isolation, quarantine camps, border closures, empty supermarket shelves, and government officials giving daily press conferences and announcing the new total of covid-19 cases as some sort of solemn scoreboard.
It’s natural to be scared by these things. The amount of rapid change that we have endured in the past weeks is unprecedented outside of wartime. But rather than being a sign that the end is nigh, the abrupt changes to our normal way of life are a sign of action in the face of need. Public health officials know that wherever people gather in numbers, highly-infectious diseases like Covid-19 spread like wildfire. To use simple public health math, our current best guess is that Covid-19 has an infection rate of around 2.5 to 1 – meaning that every one person infected with the disease will spread it to two or three other people. That’s how exponential, uncontrollable growth happens. It’s what has paralysed Italy and shutdown Spain, and it’s what we are trying to avoid here in New Zealand. Isolation prevents spread, while congregation promotes it.
We are living in extraordinary times, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions. As our own Minister of Health has said, we are at war with Covid-19, and this war requires us to innovate and adapt. We must learn to accept change and to focus on the parts of that change that are empowering (like kindness and solidarity), rather than the parts that are disruptive and disappointing. The alternative is to blinker ourselves from the reality that nations around the world have been completely crippled by this crisis.
We currently have less than 300 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in New Zealand capable of offering the supportive care required by the most serious Covid-19 cases. Slowing the tide of Covid-19 into and around New Zealand is our only hope of ensuring that this capacity is not stretched to breaking point. So yes, we’re in a national lockdown. Our schools have closed their doors, and no-one can truthfully say when they will re-open. And our beloved club rugby season will at best be postponed or, at worst, cancelled outright. But these are not signs of an impending apocalypse – they are signs of good public health action. It is how we will break the chain of infection, and win the war against Covid-19.
Our remote island status has bought us time. When the history of this crisis is written, the worst thing it could say – the absolute worst – is that we didn’t use that time wisely to stem the tide. So please, stay at home. If you have to step outside, pretend you have Covid-19 and behave accordingly. By doing this you will keep yourself – and your community – safe. And rest assured, we will get through this – alone and together.