Covid-19 and the piano accordion
Today was my friend A's 50th birthday. There is no time in my life when I have not known A, our parents were friends, our big sisters were friends, we grew up on other sides of the same hill, we went to the same schools. We had decades of our lives when we didn't see each other, though he visited me and another school friend in London once, that was, when I think about it, literally half a life time ago. He took photos of us, I think with small plastic dinosaurs. Now he lives four blocks from me, down the same road. I painted a happy birthday banner on an old flowery sheet tacked the sheet to two poles., and did a cheesy kind of installation of the number "50" in battery fairy lights and surrounded by a wreath of plastic flowers. My friend KT has bought a 2nd hand piano accordion and is learning to play it so I enlisted her help. Our family and KT, a good 5 metres distant from us, serenaded locked down A. He was video chatting to other friends at the time and so they were part of it too. KT did an impressive version of happy birthday and we left a bunch of autumn flowers, the jar acting as a vase carefully disinfected if they choose to take it inside, then we walked briskly away, KT on the footpath opposite us waving a distant gooodbye. Effficient, covid-safe.
New Zealand's total of Coronavirus (including those recovered) is of today 647. It climbs but not exponentially. Ashley Bloomfield, the Director General of Health gives daily updates which are streamed live on RNZ. I watch them each day. He says he expects the numbers to rise for 10-14 days, and, if everyone sticks to the lockdown to start going down after that.
I like the story that we are an island state and acted earlier than other countries and we could actually eliminate it here, and hunker down, hold out until there is a vaccine. I like that story better than the others.
New Zealand has been under a state of emergency for seven days. It gives the government unprecedented powers, or perhaps it gives the special COVID committee unprecedented powers as Parliament is suspended. The state of emergency is I guess essentially undemocratic and is therefore reviewed every 7 days to ensure its still necessary. It was reviewed and extended today but that was misinterpreted by some, including some media, to mean our lockdown period (currently at 4 weeks) was extended by 7 days. Rumour spreads like fire on the internet. In New Zealand rumour spreads faster than Coronavirus. Someone asked on social media today about whether it was true you should wash your fruit in methylated spirits.
I'm loving the re-visioning by some Māori of the lockdown as the rāhui. It's all over social media now. From maoridictionary.co.nz rāhui is "to put in place a temporary ritual prohibition, closed season, ban, reserve". I had only heard it before in relation to fishing or shellfish harvesting, stopping the harvest to give time for the babies to get bigger. People are talking about the layers of protection wrapped in the word's meaning. A collective decision to take time out to get things back in balance. The things we pause to allow us to pick up and continue later.
76 new cases in New Zealand today, our total has moved to 589.
Today, I am thinking about how lightly my friends and I have moved through this world. How global we have been, dancing and sweating and sleeping and hugging, marching and walking with whoever we like. Going where we want. Nights and days, open and unworried. Where travellers are, beyond anything, interesting, strangeness a welcome frisson. Will the cautions of these last weeks ever be absolved completely? Are we watching an era slip into history? Nothing gradual, no withering away, no antiquated world collapsing while modernity is already being built in the weedy sections, but a sudden grinding shift we hear as we fall into our troubled sleep.
There's a large park at the end of our road with many intersecting curved and straight paths. You can walk up hills and feel the wind, and walk in regenerating bush alongside a creek filled with tuna (the eel kind). You can walk to the sea, along paths of bracken, flax and pale grasses. You can bike to the next village north.
When I went walking there yesterday, I was thinking hard, took a wrong turn, and managed to get completely disoriented. Even though I was only a few hundred metres from the sea, I had no view of it, nor of the stream, the river nor the bike path that winds through the park. I listened for the sea but it sounded like it was all around me. I came to several junctures of sealed and unsealed paths and had no idea which way to turn. I just walked in a random direction and it took a few moments to orientate myself again.
This used to happen to me sometimes cycling home from Hagley High School where I went in my last year, I would semi-deliberately get lost in the endless grid of Somerfield streets with their identical houses and tidy lawns, and other times cycling through the gigantic roundabouts of London and thinking I had found a shortcut. I think I find physical bewilderment thrilling. Even for a few moments, the utter loss of knowing where I sit in relation to my environment. Groundless, a weird euphoria, I don't know if it's the being lost or the finding myself again that is euphoric. I have, you see, never stayed lost.
I am still thinking about the cruise ships, out at sea, unwanted by any country, how frightening it must be to be aboard a ship where you know there are infections. I started thinking about Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines and the other books in that series. In that universe, cities have become predatory and mobile. They range or hunt above the now toxic earth. They are strategic, devouring other cities to access their resources. I imagine some dystopia where ships of sick people are never able to dock, drifting interminably. Perhaps it would work the other way as well, ships setting sail where only healthy people have been allowed to board, leaving those on land to the fate of mass infection. Ships biding their time on the waves until it's safe to go home. I absorb from Reeve the idea that cities could be transient, roaming and self-interested. I think of the last scene of When worlds collide when the Earth's people escape via spaceship moments before another planet hits us. I think of the Utopia episode of Doctor Who, which we just watched with our kids (who have somehow developed fandom behind our backs). It's the end of the universe and a frustrated genius is trying to launch a rocket to rescue a population of humans from pointed teeth Futurekind and send them to a distant planet called Utopia. The people have been waiting for years and the Doctor fixes it all, the final engineering problem, the people board but nothing is at seems.
108 New Zealanders who were at sea for two weeks after a cruise was aborted did get to fly home today. A woman died in Greymouth Hospital, our first Coronavirus related death. We have 63 new cases, so we're sitting at 514 now. It's gone up ten times in the last eight days. But 63 new cases is fewer new cases than yesterday, and fewer than the day before. Which may be meaningless but is comforting none-the-less.
This is how it goes
The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has coronavirus. British Health Minister, Matt Hancock, has coronavirus. Prince Charles has coronavirus. Greta Thunberg has coronavirus. Another 83 new and probable cases NZ. in the last day More than 100,000 cases now in the US and New York Times ran a story that almost 3 million people across the country lost their jobs in the last week. Almost a 1000 people died in Italy in the last 24 hours. Almost 30,000 cases and almost 3000 deaths in Iran. There's an article about an Iranian boy who is now blind because of a rumour that drinking methanol will kill the virus. Iran now has a methanol death and sickness toll. 900 cases and 20 deaths in India. Many thousands locked down in New Delhi with no food or income. South Africa is locked down. Myanmar shares borders with China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos. After officials claimed a healthy lifestyle and not using credit cards meant Myanmar citizens were immune to the disease, the country is now reporting cases and has shut its borders.
At least 10 cruise ships are still at sea, each with thousands of passengers. Some of the ships have no reported sickness, some have known cases, some have no testing kits but have passengers finding it hard to breathe. No port will let them in.
It's a bit like a Friday
Today, I think, it's a bit like a Friday. It's not very different from my normal life. It's a bit like working from home during the school holidays. Actually, it's just like that. Joe's home, cooking. Lily made a sponge cake. The kids are home being a bit bored but mostly content. I'm less focused than usual but as usual perched on a chair at the end of the house trying to bring order to the chaos of online information. As usual getting bogged down by anomalies and arrangement and things that don't quite fit, until I hold the shape up to the light and things slip into place and are calmer. As usual trying to make things make sense. I don't go out all that much anyway My quiet village is a bit quieter. I am walking more. I am showering more. I am sleeping less. I am still chatting to my friends online. Today I know there's a storm out there, but it's not mine, not yet.
I remember when I was playing Prospero in a small production of the Tempest, and writing about it, I realised that everything the audience and Ariel knows is reported. Prospero could have made the whole thing up. Him being powerful back home in Milan, him being betrayed, him releasing Ariel. He gets to tell the story and so we experience that truth. I wonder if that's why some of the Coronacranks are so skeptical. I see their mutterings online as well. use your brains they say, think about it. Who's telling us? Why? What are they protecting? Where's the proof? It's caused by 5G, it's just the common cold, it'll disappear in spring. It's hysteria.
You can't see a virus, you see. It's just a story told to us, a nefarious government's fairy tale. I can imagine it though, the spiky virus we see pictures of everywhere now, tumbling, yes like tumbleweed, down the empty streets.
A household cluster
So we've started. I mean we were kind of in lockdown since Monday afternoon anyway. We saw Jane and Sam for an outdoor-sitting-a-long-way-apart-morning-tea, to plan things and since that just the four of us. But we've started full enforceable by law lockdown. We're in it.
I feel tired and a bit jittery. Two nights ago I got something in my eye just as I was falling asleep and thought sleep will wash it out. So I slept and woke with one tiny eye and a lot of puffiness around it. Sleep did wash whatever it was out. The puffiness has gone down and my eye has got bigger, but it has added to a feeling of general dis-ease, of being not sick but not quite well either. Louise Hay would ask, what am I not wanting to see.
I feel a bit worried or perhaps I feel very worried but distant from it. As if I am under water. I am having to deal with some stressful voluntary work, and my attempts to de-stress the situation backfired, and some pressured paid work, and those things feel like distractions, like distancing mechanisms. I feel like my job now should be The Lockdown. Every morning I should get up and report to duty for The Lockdown and every week the government should send us our Lockdown cheque sufficient to support our basic needs.
This is so huge. There is the lockdown, and already people are talking about it being extended, that four weeks won't be long enough and that worries me. I want to see my Mum. I want my kids to see my Mum. My kids need air and variety and friends and learning. People being lonely. People dying alone. People being in lockdowns which are safe from the virus but not safe from the people they're locked down with. The way social connection is what makes us human. What is going to change over this four weeks? What will we be like at the end? I worry.
And then there's the infection itself, another 78 new or probable infections in NZ today. It is hitting New York "like a bullet train" and it is "exploding" in Tokyo, and there are 470,000 global infections now and more than 21,000 deaths. And nowhere including New Zealand enough ventilators or ICU beds and nurses saying they are being told not to wear masks and they feel unsafe. And our public health system so underfunded for so long. There were crises before a crisis hit. All that worries me.
And then there's the poverty. There's already homelessness and poverty in New Zealand, and people being hungry, and people working three jobs just to stay afloat, and we're not in depression or recession. We've been growing. It's been normal. But a depression is thundering towards us, galloping full pace, like a rhinoceros or a demogorgon. And the way things are arranged the people who it will hurt most are the people already hurting. Economic resilience is directly related to the amount of change you have had in your pocket after you paid your weekly bills. Some people will be okay though this thing. Some won't. Desperation will become more common. Our country will change. Like any event, it's a justice issue as much as anything, The benefits of supposed economic growth have fallen unevenly, so too will the burdens of a depression. And that, that worries me most of all.
Lockdown happens at 11.59 pm tonight, two hours and 24 minutes away. Everyone I know has already started really. Many people's parents haven't started but instead are popping out to the dairy or angling for a cappuccino in the cafe. Just a few of us, dear. One friend's mother went to the Casino last weekend, well I've had a good run, she said, when my friend complained.
The police have said, don't even think about going for a drive to the beach. Walk in your local neighbourhood, keep two metres away from anyone else, only go with people you are in a household cluster with. The idea is a closed circle of members of your household. The police say act like you have the virus.
40 new confirmed or probable cases yesterday, 50 new confirmed or probable cases announced today. and because the numbers in my graph don't add up, I have been recording new infections each day, it must be because they have started absorbing the probable cases into their numbers as well as the confirmed. I made up the difference in yesterday's numbers so it shows a greater leap than the 40 new infections we were told about. The Director of Health says it will keep going up for another 10 days, because the people being tested now are those who have arrived before the borders were closed, and before the lock down.
I keep thinking about Dustin in Stranger Things (series 2 spoiler alert) who finds a cute specimen of a seemingly undiscovered species and names him D'Artagnan (Dart for short) after a chocolate bar he feeds him. His friends are suspicious, but Dustin hides Dart from them, and lies to them in order to protect his new obsession. He keeps Dart in his turtle's tank, and overnight Dart grows at astronomical rates, escapes, eats the family's cat, leaving a bloody pool of fur and flesh and is revealed to be a baby demogorgon, a creature responsible for the worst kinds of hell that Dustin and his friends have already lived through. Dustin, usually sensible, is brilliantly deceptive, his face flickering between calm affection in company, and sick terror in private as he understands exactly what he has been nurturing.
It's Wednesday night. We now have 205 confirmed or probable cases in New Zealand. Four community infections, possibly more. Last Wednesday we had 20 cases, the Wednesday before that we had five.
Time moves at different speeds
It's Day -1 til lock down. I was working from home. Well, that will get boring quick. I work from home now. My friend H's brother is a builder and had to lay off 30 of his staff, some of them parents with young kids. We had a meeting with the kids and Joe's mum and Joe's brother. We sat a way apart in her amazing garden which is in the late summer flush, deep pinks and greens. Joe's brother works as a DoC ranger in mountain huts where a lot of tourists come through. We talked about risks and shopping and waving to each other and how she might stay in her car and talk to us up the driveway. We talked about we would try and get DVDs to her so she's not spending four weeks watching reruns. Joe's studio is in a shed behind her house, but he won't come into the house any more. They'll keep apart. We'll do her shopping. The kids will ring her.
Alex begged until we said yes to her watching Stranger Things. She's on the edge of it being okay age wise. So the rest of us are rewatching it, we ration it, two episodes a week, Tuesday and Thursday after dinner. In tonight's episode Will is hanging out with his friend Mike describing the terror of a shadow monster occupying his brain, but all I can think is, you're in peril, you're standing too close, you're not meant to be in each other's houses, this is a lock down. Maggie said she was reading a book which had two characters shaking hands and she was like What? This is wrong. What are you doing?
The village is very quiet but the village is always quiet and now I can't tell if it's different. 40 new infections, 4 cases of community transmission, and when I came home from my walk one rabbit on the road directly in front of my house.
36 new cases in one day. Two of them now being considered community infection. At 1.45 pm Jacinda announced we were in level three of the alert effective immediately and in 48 hours would move to level four. So the country is going into full lock down, with a two days to prepare. To get our things in order.
We thought the kids would be exhausted after their walk yesterday but instead that, or something else, kept them up all night, sleepless, so they were sleeping all morning and didn't go to school today, and now there's no more school. That was it. Easter holidays have been brought forward to start on Monday. Alex has a named work packet to pick up tomorrow from school at an appointed time according to her surname from the Elephant shelters at school. Maggie's school will be sending out learn from home information. The Women's Centre staff have gone home. I have a big work virtual meeting postponed from tomorrow to the next day, which is good. It's too distracting, we need to prepare, we need to take stock. I think about the wording of that. What's in stock, what's in the house, how are we going to do this?
We have a local very active Facebook and through that 30 or so clusters have been set up in the village, so each section of a street has a group to check in with, to stay in touch with the people not on Facebook, to organise errands, to do deliveries. To help. A few members of our cluster met outside just now, staying well distant of each other, we'll write up a paper questionnaire trying to find out how people in our cluster like to communicate, sharing key messages and seeing if anybody needs anything. I love our village, which has a gazillion kind things going on at any one time.
I am trying to walk every day. Today I walked by the local stream and saw a big cluster of eels. Besides one large, sudden movement that caused a splash, the eels were still or moved slowly. It was very calming. For work, I recently talked to a lot of people about growing forests, and the thing that kept coming back to me, the thing more than one person told me was that forestry operates on a different time frame. These men had thought about it, and I think talked among themselves about it. It was something foresters know and they needed me to know it too. If I was to understand even the most basic things about forestry I needed to understand that. Forests take 25 or 30 years to grow, It's not a 24 hour cycle of light and dark, or a yearly crop, or a 36 month compound interest investment. Foresters think in divisions of a quarter of a century. We have to slow down to understand the trees.
Time moves at different speeds, yeah? Those parties that last a lifetime, where everything possible happens. In 35 seconds a mountain collapses spilling over its own slopes only to be washed up as sand dunes that people build homes on. A child's sadness that lasts a century. A butterfly's industrious 12 day lifetime. A tree splitting through earth and thundering through to the canopy. A storm that broods and breeds, destroys everything around it and then dies all in 90 minutes. And the eels, who looked to me like they were in slow motion, are acrobats flying through their own dimension, slipping over each other, pulled by smells and sensations in the dusk water. I watched them move in and out of shadows and the glistening perfect reflection of my world. Dark, light, dark. I was close enough to see their little faces.
The lights are going out
So many things closing. Today (by which I mean yesterday, Sunday, but I haven't gone to bed yet) all the Kāpiti Coast District Council pools and libraries and other services were closed until further notice. And little things I hear about like the local train museum. My sister's portrait group. I'm on the board of the local women's centre and we made the call to close the non-essential services. There are already women who may be socially isolated and vulnerable using the service, I wonder what this time will be like for them. The volunteers are figuring out ways to keep the community alive. We're keeping the Refuge service open as long as we can. We're all meant to stay at home but there's nagging question, what if home isn't safe? More and more cancellations, they're thinking of not having the Olympics.
I have been talking and talking about Coronavirus. I went walking with S. the other night, she works in a public hospital outpatients ward. She is neither a nurse nor a doctor, but they are on standby for the moment when Outpatients gets shut down and converted to ICU, at which point they will get emergency training on how to help treat people. They are anticipating 50% of health workers will get the virus and often health workers get it badl, so possibly the viral load is worse There is not the right equipment, and there is not enough equipment. A strange frightening waiting game for her. So much more real for her than me. I tried to talk about other things as I thought some reprieve from the worry might be good for S. and for me, but all paths led back to it, everything related to it. S. told me a doctor in her ward came back from overseas and ignored the 14 day self-isolation rule and turned up at work. He was sent home. A man who had possible contact with a case turned up for his regular health check, even though he was meant to be in self-isolation, he was sent home too.
I talk to my friend Catharyn in California, who tells me she's not the home schooling type. She is home schooling. They can only go out for groceries or to the chemist or to go for walks outside. She lives near trails that are usually empty but are crowded now with everyone bored and walking, it's hard to self-isolate when everyone is there too, self-isolating. Trump is having temper tantrums at reporters. He was in grand denial about the virus for 2 months before he became an expert on it and is touting solutions with no science attached to them.
Yesterday was the day Jacinda did a speech that made some people cry. She's quite compassionate. She talks about kindness. She announced the introduction of a 4 tier alert level for Coronavirus,. We're at level 2. Now the debates rage on social media about whether that's the right level. We're good at absorbing bureaucracy here. The arguments go on as if there has always been a four level alert system for this virus we hardly knew about a month ago. There are petitions and accusations, there are declarations and expert opinions. We reckon. We reckon. We reckon.
One of my sister's friend has a colleagues who is infected, so her friend is self-isolating. It's getting closer you know. The first time someone I know, has been in close contact with someone infected. That sister, her husband and son are all at home now. Their son didn't want to be at school because of the virus and they were okay with that. We're all at home now, the message she sent said. My other sister is working from home too. I'm working from home. My mother is well and truly in the vulnerable population lot who have been advised to stay at home. They haven't shut the schools yet.
The 14 cases yesterday got recalculated to 13, another 14 confirmed cases today. There are no cases in Kāpiti we know about. No word on if there is community infection. I thought community infection meant it was passed from one person who hadn't been overseas to another person but it's not. There was a clarification in today's Ministry of Health press release saying it means they can not trace where the infection came from. I can see now, it is a wilder thing, and when it happens they know they haven't got it contained. It's when they can stop drawing the diagram which says A gave it to B who gave it to C,D,E,F,G therefore we need to contact H to Z. They won't know who to contact. Community infection is when it's gone rogue.
We went walking the Escarpment Track with one of Alex's friend's family today. We were two families of four, and there again, it was all we talked about really. Not far into the track, under the trees, were 12 gigantic sheep lying down. The way their bodies splayed under them it looked like they were nesting, sitting on giant eggs. Unshorn and somehow unwordly with all their wool. A different sort of creature, wild now, eating the native plants. The Council's been in touch with the farmer but nothing has been done. You get the feeling they're out there now for good, trampling the new growth, getting bigger.
The Escarpment track is a steep track that soars above the coastal railway line and road, so high you feel like you teeter there above the ocean. Today the ocean had five distinct wide stripes, closest to the shore -brown, then green, darker green, dark blue and a sort of hazy purple rim at the horizon. We went up and down the dirt tracks and the steep steep steps talking about the virus, about how it might spread and when, and why aren't the schools closing. and what it felt like when the borders shut, and how people are flouting the rules. What it might mean for the economy and for jobs, for our jobs. And has the horse bolted, or is it bolting now? And did NZ move fast enough. And what's coming. And wh how on earth can we concentrate on anything else.
It was very windy at the top of the Escarpment track and the kids made sort of parachutes of their nylon jackets, folding them up in a certain way so the wind blew the fabric taut, out from their bodies and they grinned, leaning fully into the wind, letting the wind buffet them, letting the wind hold them up.
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