Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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To trace or not to trace, that is the question.

Aotearoa New Zealand has, for now, eliminated the virus causing COVID-19. It’s eliminated as there is no community infection, and the occasional one that appears is related to a known cluster, where the person involved is already in isolation, or the person has recently returned from overseas and is in a supervised quarantine facility.

One aspect of controlling the virus has been the success of contact tracing, which has improved considerably since the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the process became centralised instead of being the responsibility of each of the nation’s 20 health authorities.

In this this nation, contact tracing has relied on a call centre “interviewing” persons who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 and then contacting known or likely contacts. Unlike in Australia, Singapore and Korea, the process has not been automated through the use of technology such as smartphone apps.

There are a number of reasons why we haven’t adopted technology to assist in tracing contacts. The most obvious is privacy. Many of those offering a smartphone solution rely on Bluetooth and the transmission of contact information to a centralised database, both of which pose security and privacy issues. Bluetooth is inherently insecure, and I never have Bluetooth enabled unless I wish to transfer data specifically with another Bluetooth device belonging to someone I know and trust.

As Bluetooth cannot discriminate on the type of proximity to another device (on opposite sides of the same room or right next to each other but in adjascent and isolated rooms for example), most of the “contacts” are irrelevant or red herrings. Bluetooth also requires a high level of trust between devices, and this is not something I’m prepared to give up.

Perhaps automating a contact history might be useful in nations where community transmission of the virus is widespread, provided there is a means of separating the wheat from the chaff that will invariably result by such a collection system. But in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, where their is no community transmission, any advantage is outweighed by security and privacy concerns.

However, today is the official release of a government approved app that also meets my approval. I downloaded it last night and am comfortable about using it.

The app makes use of QR codes that business establishments can set up at entry points, which you can voluntarily scan as you enter the premises. The data is stored within the phone only and is not transmitted in any form, but can be voluntarily transmitted to contact tracers on request. Data older than 31 days is automatically deleted.

In effect, the app is a personal “places I visited diary”, and as such I am comfortable using it. Unlike almost every other app this one does not need or request access to any smartphone service apart from the camera (to capture the QR code). What it lacks is any means of entering any locations that don’t have a QR code available to scan, and this is a serious weakness in my view.

I had been using my phone’s GPS and the Google Map Timeline to record my movements in case they were needed to trace my movements. But it is very unreliable both in recording where I’ve been and at what time. For example this morning I left home just before 11 AM and visited two locations. I was back home by 11:30.

The Google Maps timeline has no record of me being at the first location, but records me leaving home at 12:06 AM (10 hours and 51 minutes before I actually did), arriving at the second location at exactly the same instant. However, it did accurately record the time I left there, and the time it took to travel home, although it recorded that I arrived at an address three sections (properties/lots) away from home.

Yesterday, it recorded that I visited two places several blocks away, even though I never left home. The last time I visited the supermarket, it recorded the time I spent there as travel time between two other locations I passed by but didn’t stop at. Go figure.

While the typical Kiwi probably trusts our authorities more that the typical American trusts theirs, it’s not unconditional, and I believe the official NZ COVID Tracer does not require much in the way of trust while still being a useful tool in contact tracing if the need arises. I think on that basis, it’s uptake will be greater than if it relied on connectivity and/or external data storage.

One issue is finding the App on Google Play. You can’t. I don’t know what the situation is with Apple’s App Store. Searching for COVID tracers, results in only the official WHO apps being located, even if “NZ” or “New Zealand” is included in the search terms.

It seems that Google is filtering out every tracing app apart from the WHO Apps, probably due to there being a high probability of them being intentionally or unintentionally being open to abuse. Even typing in the app name “NZ COVID Tracer” does not locate it. The only way I could find it was to go to the Ministry of Health NZ COVID Tracer app Webpage and click on the link provided there. Thank you Google (not!)


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Two significant events today

We’re out of lockdown, and the 2020 budget was released

1. COVID-19 Alert Level 2

The lockdown has ended! No more isolation bubbles!

Most businesses are now open, although not necessarily back to “normal”. All businesses must operate under strict health and safety measures such as social distancing. One of the minor inconveniences is the necessity of businesses to keep some form of register (typically a record of name and contact phone number) to make tracing of possible infectious contacts easier if required.

Unlike in Australia, the government has not made any decision on employing an automated means of tracking movements and contacts. The issues of (a) privacy and (b) compliance have yet to be resolved to a satisfactory level. If community transmission remains extremely low or non-existent, then really there’ll be no need for any type of electronic tracking. There’s been no new cases for three consecutive days.

The hospitality sector has probably been faced with some of the most challenging requirements due to the requirements that patron must be seated, no buffet service, and only one waiter per table.

Bars can not open for another week, as there’s a concern that the lowering of inhibitions that often accompany alcohol consumption may lead to a spike in transmission of the disease. Some bars will no doubt make changes to what they offer so that food and not alcohol as the “principal purpose” of their business, thereby allowing them to open earlier.

Of course there are some aspects of the remaining restrictions that are perceived by a minority as being unnecessary and in some cases part of a long-planned scheme to create a “new world order”. One restriction in particular has bee singled out by the Christian fringe as being a plot by the government to destroy religion in general and Christianity in particular.

One of the restrictions is that no event can have more than 100 participants. However some events are more restricted. For example, weddings and funerals were to be restricted to 10 persons, but the funeral directors association provided evidence to the authorities that they could manage saftey requirements for larger groups. Consequently, funerals can now de up to 50 people, while weddings are still limited to 10.

Religious services are also limited to a maximum of ten people, and extreme Christians claim that as sports events and other venues can accomodate 100 people, the limit of 10 for religious services is a deliberate and targetted attack on religious freedom.

More reasonable religious leaders acknowledge that in many ways, religious events more closely resemble social gatherings where social distancing will be difficult to manage. Social gatherings are limited to a maximum of ten people due to the increased chance of community transmission at such events.

2. The Budget

The other significant event was the release of the government’s budget for the 2020/2021 financial year. It’s involves spending at an unprecedented level, Whereas the Labour government typically runs with a surplus (7 billion last year) it will occur a 20 billion dollar deficit over the next year. The government has allocted 50 billion dollars specifically for pandemic recovery – 30 billion has been allocated and a further 20 billion for future demands due to

While 50 billion dollars may not seem much compared to the recent 2 trillion package in the US, it can be put into better perspective by measuring the deficit against our GDP. The deficit will average 9.3% of the GDP over the next two years. It’s not expected that debt will return to pre-covid levels until 2028.

A significant outcome of the current pandemic is that it will necessitate a major restructure of our economy, not because of the shutdown but because of the changes occurring in world economy. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball that can predict when or even if tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels. It’s an industry that employs one in eight Kiwis, and in the short term, it’s going to need intensive care if it is going to survive at all, and if it does survive, it’s only going to be a shadow of its former self catering for the domestic market for years to come.

The government predicts unemployment to reach 10% by the end of June and not return to pre-COVID-19 days until 2022.

Some perspectives of the NZ budget:

From NZ:
Newshub: Budget 2020: Where the Government is spending big to rebuild New Zealand after coronavirus
New Zealand Herald: Budget 2020: Government’s Covid 19 wage subsidy scheme extended by 8 weeks, now up to $14b
Scoop: Welfare Or Warfare? Military Spending In Budget 2020

From overseas:
The Guardian on MSN: New Zealand budget: Robertson lays out $50bn plan to return jobs to pre-Covid-19 levels
The New Your Times: New Zealand Unveils Record Spending to Stop Massive Job Losses


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Two to 2!

Kia ora!

Two to 2, or more precisely two days to Alert Level 2. At precisely 11:59 on Wednesday the 13th of May, Aotearoa drops to COVID-19 Alert Level 2. The announcement today came as a nice 71st birthday present.

Life at Alert Level 2

Life at Alert Level 2 means we will be able resume most of our everyday activities — but but with strings attached.

  • Businesses will be able to open if they can do it safely.
  • We’ll be able go in-store at local businesses.
  • Tertiary education facilities, schools and early learning centres will be open.
  • We’ll be able to travel between regions.
  • Gatherings such as weddings, funerals, tangihanga, religious ceremonies and social gatherings will be permitted — but only for up to 10 people.
  • We’ll be able to socialise with friends and family— but only in groups of up to 10 people.
  • We’ll be able to visit local cafes and restaurants bars and pubs to have a meal— but only in groups of up to 10 people.
  • We can return to our regular recreation activities— but only in groups of up to 10 people.

The 10-person limit will expand over time depending on the rate of new infections.

With strings attached

Life will still have some way to go before we can consider it “normal” and we will have some restrictions for some time.

  • We need to maintain physical distancing.
  • Tight controls at the borders. Mandatory 14 day quarantine will continue for all arrivals
  • Wide-scale testing will continue. We now have one of the highest testing rates in the world.
  • Self-isolation for anyone who feels unwell and the same applies to their close contacts.
  • Only small, controlled gatherings will be permitted.
  • Physical distancing, hygiene standards and contact registers will be required for most businesses.
  • A maximum of 100 people at any indoor or outdoor event. For example a restaurant can cater for 100 seated guests, but no group booking can be accepted for more than 10 people.

I can live with those for an extended period if need be.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, Keep strong


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Living in a bubble

For the wife and I, living at Alert Level Three for the last ten days is for all practical purposes no different from the Alert Level Four we had been living under for the previous 33 days. We are still isolated in our household bubble. We can now drive the few kilometres to Kitchener park and take the boardwalk through the forest, but it hasn’t exactly been “walk in the Park” weather recently.

We had been restricted to accessing only essential services such as the supermarket, pharmacies and medical centres, or exercising in the immediate neighbourhood. Now we can purchase non-essential items either online or through contactless arrangements such as “click and collect”.

If we really felt the urge, we could order a takeaway (I think Americans call it take out) for delivery or through some form of “click and collect” or even a drive thru. Judging by the size of the queues at fast food outlets on the first day of Level Three, we might be unusual in not missing junk food.

Due to the new health and safety requirements regarding distancing, the output at fast food outlets is only a fraction of that prior to lockdown. On day one at Level Three, the queues at some fast food outlets were several hours long! Somehow fast food doesn’t seem an appropriate description.

There are a few people and businesses that want an immediate move to Alert Level Two, but given the cautious approach taken by the authorities, I expect the initial two-week period at Level Three to be extended by at least a few days or possibly a week or more.

Those clambering for an immediate relaxation conveniently ignore the fact that any upward trend in the infection rate under Level Three will not be seen for around two weeks, especially in the light of current new daily infections can be counted on one hand with several digits missing.

The current infection rate has an R0 of 0.4, and I prefer that it stays that way or drops lower. The authorities are expected to make an announcement on Monday of when Level Two will commence, and I won’t be surprised if they announce a date at least a week away.

What will Alert Level Two look like?

The full details are on the official COVID-19 Website, but a more simplified version is available on the the official website of the New Zealand Government.

The most significant change for me is that I will be able to exit out household bubble and to rub shoulders (figuratively of course) with close friends and family. The downside is that I’ll also be expected to rub shoulders with the rest of society.

Over the six weeks of lockdown I’ve realised how stressful I find actual live social interaction, and if I had my way, I’d restrict communication to less interactive forms such as email or blogging. I’ve really embraced such forms over the last six weeks, and don’t really look forward to resuming more “immediate” forms of social interaction. I have little doubt that the most significant factor in feeling this way is due to being on the autism spectrum.

So while there’s no doubt that most Kiwis are looking forward to returning to something closer to “normal” as soon as possible, I’m in no particular hurry, and for my own peace of mind, I’m not particularly fazed if we stay at Level Three for several more weeks.


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Thinking about the lockdown

This post isn’t so much about the lockdown itself, but about my reaction to it – specifically as an autistic person and migraineur.

According to Lloyd Geering, it is thought – specifically language – that separates humans from other higher forms of animal life. With language, we can construct alternative realities (religion, stories, metaphors etc), communicate our thoughts and ideas precisely to fellow humans for example. Without language, we’d be little different from the great apes. I’m not convinced.

Apparently most humans think in words. Take for example, the wife. I’ve asked her how she thinks. She grew up knowing only the Japanese language, but studied English literature in University. As she describes it, she thought in Japanese. For the first few years of living in Aotearoa New Zealand, she continued to think in Japanese and it was necessary to translate English conversation into Japanese, consider the response and then translate that into English to reply – a process that was quite tiring.

Eventually she started thinking in English, which is how she says she processes her thoughts today. However she still retains the ability to think entirely in Japanese and can switch from one to the other more or less on demand. Although the switch is a conscious move on her part, once the switch is made, no further effort is required until it’s time to switch again.

She finds the role of translator very tiring because of the effort of switching modes between the two languages. It becomes exhausting in very quick time. I notice that the sign language translators for our government officials have quite short stints, often requiring more than one person during a single address by the Prime Minister or other official. Mentally it’s hard work. I find this true with all communication.

Many autistic people seem to think primarily in images and it is necessary to translate those images into word patterns in order to communicate their thoughts to others. Here, some autistics will say that the effort to communicate with other autistics and neurodivergent individuals takes much less effort than when communicating with allistic (non-neurodivergent) individuals. As approximately 98% of the population is not autistic, communication with the wider community can be challenging and exhausting.

I have an almost nonexistent ability to form mental images even from quite detailed descriptions. Likewise, when it comes to recalling visual images from memory, I don’t visualise anything. I retain knowledge about what I must have seen, but more or less in the form of a wordless set of bullet points that I can translate into sentences if required.

I have in the past described my mode of thinking as thought bubbles that combine and split, similar to oil in a lava lamp. Each bubble contains a concept or groups of concepts that are constantly reforming through the splitting and recombining.

When it comes to communicating, I consciously have to go through the process of splitting a concept into groupings of progressively smaller ideas until they reach the size of paragraphs. From there it’s necessary to construct sentences, at first without words, and then to choose the necessary components of language in order to communicate in written or spoken form.

I reverse the procedure when taking in what someone has said or written. While the metaphor of bubble seems appropriate when it comes to levels approximating paragraphs and smaller, it is less appropriate for “higher” levels. They are more like clouds, having no clearly discernible boundaries and can combine and split is ways where it’s not possible to precisely know when they split or join.

So what has any of this to do with the COVID-19 lockdown?

Because the translating of thought clouds into words requires effort, isn’t instantaneous and is somewhat imprecise, I usually spend considerable effort practising the translation of ideas into words and refining them so that they will be intelligible to allistics. When I’m happy with it, I can store it away in memory from where I can recall and recite it, rote form, when appropriate.

Nearly all nonconsequential communication – small talk – comes from this memory bank of prepared sentences, both for what I say, and for matching input from others. Under normal circumstance, I need to constantly refresh what is stored, otherwise the content fades over time.

Since the lockdown, the necessity of, and demand for, using prepared sentences and phrases has diminished. So much in fact, that I notice I am not in a state of constantly refreshing existing ones or preparing new ones just in case they’re needed. The outcome is I feel less stressed. I don’t feel I’m in a constant state of rehearsing for a performance commonly referred to as life. Mentally, I feel relaxed, and for me it is quite a novel experience.

For many migraineurs, stress can be one of the triggers for a migraine attack, and I suspect in my case it’s a primary cause. Since the lockdown, the frequency and severity of migraine attacks has diminished significantly.

Particularly noticeable since the lockdown is that often a migraine attack goes through just the aura phase, with a shortened or nonexistent prodrome phase, acute phase (the actual headache and associated severe symptoms), and postdrome phase (the migraine hangover).

I appreciate that for most people, isolation and the lack of communication opportunities can be distressful and can cause anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I’m relishing it. Perhaps when this pandemic is over, I should consider becoming a hermit 🙂


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COVID-19 nights

Our home sits on a hill around 60 m (approx 200 ft) above the township, and we have a splendid view eastwards towards the ranges in the distance. The main floor of the house is around 6 m (20 ft) above the street, and the bedrooms are a further 3 m (10 ft) above that. This provides us with a good amount of privacy as all the homes we can see from within are below eye level, allowing us to leave the curtains open in the evening to view the nightlight.

Since the lockdown, we’ve noticed how quiet the streets are in the evening. We’re not exactly a bustling metropolis, but even so, there’s normally a moderate of traffic throughout the evening. But not now.

West Street, which runs along the foot of the hill is a major thoroughfare in and out of the town, and also caters for traffic that’s simply passing by the township. After most sensible people are in bed, West Street still has a regular flow of heavy vehicles carrying goods to and from the various freight hubs in the region. We see little now.

The Palmerston North airport, which we can just make out in the distance some 20 Km (12 miles) to the southeast, normally has evening and early morning passenger flights, and freight-only arrivals and departures through the late evening and early hours of the morning and we can observe the landing lights of aircraft as they take off and land. The only aircraft we seem to see or hear now is the occasional military aircraft from the Ohakea airbase, about 19 Km (12 miles) to the west

A pilot training school is also located in Palmerston north, and it’s not unusual to see a many as five to ten light aircraft flying in large circles doing night time landings and takeoffs. But not now.

However, there is one event that now occurs more regularly than on pre COVID-19 nights. The photo below was taken from our bedroom window at close to midnight and illustrates the event. I’ve circled it so that you can more readily identify it

View from bedroom window at midnight
A COVID-19 night

What I’ve circled is the flashing blue and red lights of a police car that has pulled over a car (it’s always a car and never a commercial vehicle) on West Street. As it happens regularly now, I presume the police are doing random checks to ensure motorists have a valid reason for being out and about instead of in lockdown.

Of course it might be that I now spend more time gazing out the window than previously, and that’s why I notice it more, but I don’t think so. Sure, it’s not that unusual to see the occasional lights of police and other emergency vehicles at night, but they’d appear at random spots around town, seldom in that section of West Street we can see from our house, and certainly not almost nightly.

What else has changed? It’s quite clear we don’t use our car much as we used to. I went to put some items into the recycle wheelie-bin that sits beside the car under the carport, and came away with my hair and beard smothered in spiderwebs. Never had that happen before!


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Here’s to Level Three

Kia ora!

Last night, the wife and I raised our glasses (Giesen NZ Riesling 2017 if you’re curious) to celebrate the news that the nation will move from COVID-19 Alert Level Four to Level Three as from 11:59 PM on Monday, 28 April.

In practical terms, going to Level Three will make little difference to our personal lives. Our isolation bubble will not expand – it will remain at just two people. All retail facilities in town will remain closed apart from those that have been allowed to remain open during Level Four – supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations.

However it will mean that we will be able to drive the few kilometres to Kitchener Park and take the boardwalk through the forest. One difference here will be that when the wife needs to sit to ease her back pain, she’ll use a collapsible 3-legged stool instead of the fifteen or so park benches scattered along the walk – all in the interests of preventing contamination of our bubble.

Perhaps the most significant easing that Level Three provides for us will be that many more items will be able to be purchased online for delivery to our home. Currently deliveries can be made only for products that are considered essential.

We have also been given a start date for our home renovations – 1st of June, provided the Alert Level has dropped below Level Three. As almost all work will be inside, there’s no way we can keep our bubble protected from the various trades people who will be working on the project.

Unlike in the US, where we have seen news clips of shoulder to shoulder demonstrators calling for the end of COVID-19 restrictions, here we’re seeing concern that the relaxations are happening too soon. Under Level Three, child care facilities can re-open as can and schools for students from Year 1 through to Year 10. The emphasis is on can. Government advice is to keep kids home if at all possible. But there is considerable apprehension from staff mostly around managing social distancing for children – something that will be almost impossible to control.

Our Prime Minister has an approval rating of around 90% for her handling of the pandemic, even though our nationwide lockdown has been one of the most restrictive of any nation – certainly among those with a Western style democracy.

This is no more readily apparent than the public reaction to a comment on facebook by Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party and the Parliamentary Opposition, and currently chair of the Epidemic Response Committee, where he was critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Most see it as political grandstanding, including many National Party supporters. At time of writing, the post has attracted over 28,000 comments – mostly negative.

News headlines are suggesting there’s leadership coup being planned within the National Party, but of course they’re being denied. National Party support has plummeted to around 30% – way down on its pre-pandemic rating of low to mid forty percent, and doesn’t bode well for the party in the upcoming general elections currently set for September. I can understand why Jacinda Ardern is reluctant to push the election date back to November – a call being made by both the opposition and her coalition partner.

For anyone interested in NZ style politics, have a look at live streaming and recordings of previous sessions of the Epidemic Response Committee. This committee oversees government actions while Parliament is in recess during the lockdown.

Before the current crisis, the National Party had a comfortable lead over the Labour Party – often by as much as ten percentage points even though support for its leader trailed far behind that of the leader of the Labour Party – 5% – 10% for Simon Bridges compared to 40% to 50% for Jacinda Ardern.

We now see National have the lowest support for more than a decade. In Aotearoa New Zealand, our MMP electoral system means that parliamentary representation almost exactly reflects party support at time of a general election. Although in opposition, National has has been the largest party in Parliament. If an election were to held today Labour would be able to form a government with support of the Green Party.

I can’t see National and Greens being able to form a coalition in the foreseeable future, being at opposite ends of not very wide NZ political spectrum. Think of Biden as National, Sanders as Labour and Greens as Andrew Yang. There’s no popular support here for an equivalent of the Republican GOP.

kia haumaru, kia kaha
Keep safe, be strong.


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What will Level 3 look like?

We’re into our fourth week of lockdown in COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

The government has made it clearer what Alert Level 3 will look like after the current Level 4 lockdown ends. Unlike many parts of the world where lockdown has not been as as wide ranging as here in Aotearoa New Zealand, our “bubbles” have been restricted to single households. All businesses have been closed except for essential services – supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies and petrol stations. Even online business has been prohibited unless it fell into one of the essential services and it had an online presence before the lockdown commenced.

This has resulted in off shore businesses targeting NZ consumers as they have been able to sell into NZ whereas local businesses cannot. This is particularly true of mail order businesses based in Australia and multinationals such as Amazon. Hardly what one could describe as an even playing field.

When we go to Level 3 (whenever that may be – it won’t be announced until next week at the earliest), some relief for NZ businesses won’t come soon enough, but still many will remain closed. So this is how Level 3 will play out:

For businesses:

  • Workers must work from home if they can
  • Workplaces must operate safely – keeping one metre between workers, recording who is working together, limiting interaction between groups of workers, disinfecting surfaces, and maintaining high hygiene standards
  • Retail and hospitality businesses can only open for delivery and contactless pre-ordered pick up – customers cannot enter stores
  • Supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations can continue to allow customers into their stores, with the same restrictions and measures in place as Alert Level 4
  • Businesses cannot offer services which involve face-to-face contact or sustained close contact (e.g. hairdressing, massage, house cleaning, or door-to-door salespeople)
  • Other in home services can be delivered if it is safe to do so (like tradespeople for repairs or installations) – keep two metre separation from those in the house

Personal movement

  • People must stay within their immediate household bubble, but can expand this to reconnect with close family / whanau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. Bubbles must still be exclusive: Bubbles cannot overlap
  • If you were in the wrong place when the restrictions came into place, and need to get home, you can now move throughout New Zealand to do so. You can only move once, and in one direction. New Zealanders can move to or from the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau once, and in one direction.

Recreation

  • The most important principle here is to stay safe (so that you do not need rescuing or medical care), and to stay physically distant from people outside of your bubble.
  • You can do activities that are local, which you can do safely, and which do not involve interacting with other people, or equipment touched by other people. You should go to your nearest beach or park, not your favourite one. Staying overnight at a bach or holiday home is not permitted.
  • If you are an experienced surfer, you can go to your local break. If you’re not experienced, don’t surf.
  • If you want to go fishing you can do so from a wharf or the shore, but don’t cast off the rocks or fish from a boat (boating is not allowed).
  • Tramping is ok for day walks on easy trails, same for mountain biking if you are experienced and know the trail (whereas the rest of the world hikes, Kiwis tramp)
  • Do not use any common equipment touched by people from outside your bubble.
  • Hunting, boating, yachting and any team sports or training are not allowed.

Gatherings

Up to 10 people can gather for:

  • Funerals and tangihanga
  • Wedding ceremonies (not receptions).

Full details can be found on the government’s COVID-19 Website.

For the wife and myself

Personally, it will allow the wife and I to visit the nearby forest park and stroll the boardwalk loop. It will also allow us to resume online purchases for products other than food and pharmaceuticals. We had made a decision not to make offshore purchases so that our impact on local business would cause as little harm as possible.

Apart from that, it will make very little difference from our current situation in Level 4 lockdown. Our children and grandchildren will still be off limits – they’re in different towns. For all practical purposes the CBD will remain closed, although we will be able to order the occasional Hell pizza for home delivery.

From what I have read regarding COVID-19 lockdowns in other jurisdictions, our Level 3 will still still be more restrictive than the high level lockdowns in many countries around the globe. The goal here is to eradicate the virus, not merely flattening the curve. Still looks like the best option for this nation until a vaccine becomes available.


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No walk in the park

As we near the end of day 11 in lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are some activities I am beginning to miss. Perhaps the one I miss the most, is doing the boardwalk through the Awahuri Forest. It’s just a short 4 Km drive from home, but under the current COVID-19 restrictions, it’s too far by about 3.5 Km for non essential travel.

The forest is a remnant of wetland forests that once covered much of the region before 19th century settlers destroyed most of it by converting it into pasture for sheep and dairy farming. Some of the remaining trees are over 800 years old and probably started life before any humans set foot in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Until the 1980s the forest was slowly dying. Introduced pests such as possums and rats prevented its regeneration by eating seedlings,fruit and berries, allowing non-native plant species to invade and smothering those seedlings that hadn’t been eaten.

Fortunately there is now active management of the forest, including the ongoing destruction of introduced pests. Native bird life is making a comeback, and it’s a delight listening to the calls of so many birds. And of course the pīwakawaka is often flittering within arm’s length as they perform their aerobatics catching insects that we disturb as we make our way through the forest.

Back problems force the wife to keep to the boardwalk which is a loop of a little over one kilometre and bench seats are dotted along the walk at approximately one hundred metre intervals. If I’m by myself or with the grandkids, I like to take some of the alternative tracks that can add up to another 5 Km of somewhat uneven surfaces – some of which is impassable in wetter months.

I do miss this:


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X marks the spot

Kia ora.

Yesterday (before the nation closed down apart from essential services), I visited the service station (gas station) to top up the car petrol tank, and the supermarket to do our weekly shopping. I’m determined not to stock up on more than we usually do, and I was surprised that the urge to buy a little bit extra didn’t arise at all.

Mind you, the environment in the supermarket wasn’t conducive to looking out for bargins. The particular supermarket we frequent has a “quiet time” on Wednesdays between 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM with reduced lighting, reduced restocking of shelves, reduced noise (no public announcements or promotions, sound turned off on checkout scanners and registers etc) – perfect for those of us with sensory issues. Except yesterday.

Even though the store was no busier than on a typical Wednesday, the bright lighting, noise – especially the continuous COVID-19 safety warnings – made the whole experience less than pleasant. And as I’m the designated shopper for our household I had no choice but to grin and bear it. And get out as quickly as possible.

Neither the supermarket nor the service station were busier than a typical Wednesday. At the supermarket, I found a park right in front of the building entrance, and at the service station only four of the eight refueling bays were occupied. The most noticeable difference from normal were the bright yellow X’s at both locations.

At the supermarket there was a line of bright yellow crosses at two metre intervals on the floor at every checkout (four at each lane). And as we were reminded every few minutes over the public address system, the crosses were to mark the required separation space between shoppers. The only other obvious indication that the circumstances were unusual was that we had to pack our own bags and a requirement to use hand sanitiser before entering one’s PIN into the EFT-POS terminal.

The unusual circumstances were a little more obvious at the service station. The convenience store was closed and payments were made through the after hours night-pay window. Here they’d set up some barriers to form temporary lanes, and there on the ground, two metres apart were a line of bright yellow X’s, and several notices reminding us to stand on a cross while queueing.

So for the foreseeable future, X will indeed mark the spot.

From the vantage point of our home, we have a great view over our town amd extending to the ranges and wind farms in the distance. Feilding is not an especially busy place, but today, the absence of vehicles and people in the streets give the town an eerie post-apocalypse feeling. If I’d seen a line of zombies stumbling up the hill towards our home, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s that surreal.

This evening, as I look across town, vehicle headlights are conspicuous by their absence. However what is more prevalent than usual is the frequency of seeing blue and red flashing lights. I’m guessing the police are checking that the few cars still on the road are there for a valid reason.

So, as our first day of lockdown draws to a close, I have to wonder: Is this the new normal?

Kia haumaru, kia kaha