Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


7 Comments

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


2 Comments

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.


6 Comments

Is New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown lawful?

Two law professors, Professor Andrew Geddis, Faculty of Law, University of Otago, and Professor Claudia Geiringer, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington raise some questions about the legality of the lockdown orders that we in Aotearoa New Zealand are currently living under. We are, as from midnight last night, at Level Three, whereas we were at Level Four for the previous 33 days.

It will be interesting to see if there are any genuine challenges to the legality of the current lockdown orders. Such a challenge is likely to come in the form of a request for a judicial review. Two badly formulated claims for habeas corpus (A v Ardern [2020] NZHC 796; B v Ardern [2020] NZHC 814) have failed, but the article by Geddis and Geiringer certainly raise some issues that I think need clarification.


4 Comments

ANZAC Day 2020

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served” It is, I believe, the most important day of the year for most Kiwis. But what it means does vary from person to person.

From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_Day

I have mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. While, like most Kiwis, I consider it a day of remembrance, I along with an increasing number, find that the day adds weight to the futility of war. In this respect, I think there is a growing gap between Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia about the significance of the day. From my observation, in Australia, the day is also one of growing national pride, whereas here it is much less so. But keep in mind, this is purely a personal perspective.

ANZAC day traditionally starts with a Dawn Service held in every town in the nation. Last year the event was curtailed somewhat as it came so soon after the Christchurch shootings and due to security concerns, but this year, an even greater threat, COVID-19, has seen the cancellation of all services.

Instead, we were encouraged to “Stand at dawn” at our gates, entrances, porches and balconies. So shortly before dawn, I made my way down our driveway to the entrance of our property, and stood “Apart, but together as one” with many, but by no means all, of the households in our cul-de-sac. It was too dark to see most, but the quite murmurs of nearby households could be heard while I listened to the virtual dawn service broadcast over RNZ National.

Since my father died I have made a conscious attempt to attend the Dawn service, usually in person but sometimes by listening to a service on the radio or watching it on TV or online. My father made a point of taking part in the Dawn Parade that makes up part of the dawn service.

The parade consists of Returned Services personnel (veterans) and more recently, members of their family and their descendants, and also of current service men and women, fire and emergency personnel, and other services. Those with service medals are encouraged to wear them – on the left if they are your own, or on the right if worn by a family member or descendant.

In one respect my father stood out from every other returned service man and woman. He would be the only one that didn’t display any medals on their chest. Don’t get me wrong – he did have many medals, including several for bravery, but he refused to display them. He felt that displaying them was a form of false pride. It must have taken a lot of courage on his part to have put up with the ribbing, criticism and sometimes direct insults that he received every year from those he had served alongside.

It is as much for my father’s steadfast standing on principles, as for any other reason, that I now observe ANZAC Day. It is also My Father’s Day.

Sunrise shortly after dawn service 2020
Sunrise following Dawn Service


Leave a comment

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!


7 Comments

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.


5 Comments

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:


3 Comments

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