‘It feels like we’re living on a different planet, it’s just absurd other nations have got it so wrong’: Two New Zealanders give an insight into a normal life in a global pandemic

New Zealand has been lauded globally for its coronavirus response and as such, life in 2020 has been relatively back to normal in the nation of 5 million, a positive in a bad year though a reality that seems far-fetched for most of the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the world in negative ways and many nations’ responses have been lacking. But New Zealand remains an exception, with the country led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, having pursued a policy of total elimination of the virus, something that has led the country to have had only 2,371 cases and 26 deaths (in comparison to the UK with over 4 million cases and over 120,00 deaths) along with international praise and the benefits of which, its citizens have been reaping.

‘‘Things surprisingly went back to normal very quickly. Especially here in the capital, life has resumed in pretty much every way. It’s very strange to look at what’s happening in the US and UK for example,’’ says Finn Parr, a British-born 23-year old from Wellington.

‘‘Not long ago, there was even a big rave with over 2,000 attending and I thought it was strange because it was the only event of its kind on, in the world at this time,’’ he adds.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Neil Lindsay, a 22-year old from Auckland.

‘‘Here in Auckland, there are some measures like masks are mandatory on public transport, but apart from that, it’s completely back to normal,’’ he says.

‘‘Everything’s back on like festivals and all. We can do anything whereas in the rest of the world, it’s like they’re in a prison.’’

 Both Parr and Lindsey are also supporters of Ardern, and fully agree with their government’s response to COVID-19. With New Zealand sealing its borders shut in mid-March 2020, Ardern’s government introduced a four-level alert level system shortly afterwards and in the space of days, the country was placed under a brutal but effective full lockdown which lasted until June 2020. Two months later on, the country was placed under restrictions again after a localised outbreak in the Auckland area, which progressively lasted until October. Since then, the country has had few COVID-19 cases, something enormously contrasting the situation in most of the world.

‘‘I like her a lot and she was definitely at the right place at the right time. I sometimes think that the COVID situation here would be like the US or Britain, had the Nationals (NZ’s opposition party) been in charge,’’ says Parr.

‘‘The Labour (the ruling party) government did the right things, they shut our borders early on compared to others despite objections from people, funny enough, all of them are pretty much silent now.’’

Parr says Ardern also personally contacted the families of all COVID-19 victims, something which he says ‘‘all leaders should do so’’ and that ‘‘it was what was expected of a leader so Ardern did right.’’

Lindsay agrees, saying the National Party ‘‘only pressed the government on what it was going to do post-COVID, rather than trying to help them.’’

‘‘Coronavirus would be far worse here indeed if the Nationals were in charge,’’ he says.

‘‘Ardern is wonderful. She did an amazing job, she’s had experience with difficult situations like the Christchurch terror attack and the volcano eruption, she’s shown good leadership. Her motto with corona was to go hard and go early.’’

Importantly however, the two say Ardern’s ‘‘compassionate’’ and ‘‘unifying’’ approach to dealing with COVID-19, contributed immensely to the country’s success in dealing with the pandemic along with Ardern and the Labour Party’s recent landslide victory in the country’s general election.

‘‘She essentially said all of us here in NZ were a team of five million, that being our population of course. She said we each had a role to play and to trust Bloomfield (The NZ Director-General of Health) and others who were advising the government on COVID,’’ says Lindsay.

‘‘Ardern’s personalised and calm approach and that our COVID response was depoliticised, these things really contributed to our success with COVID. NZ was really lucky, we saw other nations’ responses and we learnt and acted quick.’’

Additionally, with both Parr and Lindsay having family abroad including in the UK, they say they have been ‘‘increasingly alarmed’’ about the global situation outside New Zealand.

‘‘My parents live in Cumbria and the UK has been hit pretty bad by COVID so I do feel worry for my parents and those in Britain and elsewhere, many countries have handled COVID appallingly in my opinion,’’ says Parr.

Lindsay agrees, saying ‘‘looking at the global COVID stats, it hits you, it doesn’t feel like us New Zealanders are on Earth.

‘‘The US, UK, European countries, other nations. These are nations that we look up to and we used to think as trailblazers in positive approaches and all, as leaders of the free world. Not anymore,’’ he adds.

Recounting their experiences of the country’s lockdown, both Lindsay and Parr found it to be a ‘‘relaxing time’’, albeit also ‘‘somewhat scary and strange.’’

‘‘I won’t lie, when the lockdown was announced, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear at first. People thought riots and war were going to break out and that we were headed towards being a police state,’’ says Parr.

‘‘But me and my housemates made the best of the situation and as a result, the time was fantastic. Our house was a perfect set-up and fortunately we had a big garden so things eventually became chill,’’ he adds.

‘‘Since no one was allowed to leave home bar essential reasons, all we did was just hang out, drink like crazy, played on the Xbox, be around nature, told stories, did gardening, had barbecues and more. I will always be grateful that lockdown was like that for me because I know people who had to isolate in cramped housing on their own and I wouldn’t have been able to do that.’’

Parr also says he began a relationship with a girl over lockdown, however it was ‘‘a bit strange at first’’ as he wasn’t able to ‘‘properly meet up with her’’ until the country’s lockdown eased.

‘‘I met my girlfriend more often lockdown, during lockdown I could only meet her for walks and all, it’s definitely a positive. I’m really glad that we’re able to go back to normal life here in New Zealand. Lockdown was definitely a unique experience for me and to be honest, I don’t think I’d care much if I had to do it all again,’’ Parr says.

‘‘I really hope that for the rest of the world, it becomes like this soon as well. It’s horrible seeing tragedy and chaos around the globe.’’

Lockdown was also ‘‘beneficial’’ for him personally, Lindsay says.

‘‘Here even when lockdown was imposed, we didn’t have the same kind of cases and spread that was already occurring in other parts of the world so it was more of a strong precaution in a way and so the lockdown was almost a break from life and thus, it was relaxing,’’ he adds.

‘‘I was with my parents, we spent a lot of time together, watched a lot of Netflix and played a lot of football. I could work from home and fortunately, we didn’t have monetary issues either so that’s something I’m really grateful for and appreciate as well.’’

Lindsay also says that the government’s daily briefings, conferences and aid measures including financial packages and assistance, played an important role in ensuring lockdown ‘‘wasn’t some kind of pretty scary and desperate situation,’’ but that unfortunately many ‘‘businesses have failed and livelihoods have been ruined.’’

‘‘I remember at 1pm everyday, PM Ardern would give a briefing with Bloomfield and others as well, and they gave updates and helped to alleviate concerns and fear. Personally, I and many others felt less anxious because of it,’’ he says.

‘‘The government stayed in line and they really tried to help people out, indeed it all felt we as a country were one big team against one enemy. This is why trust in the government remains high and it’s also a big reason why Ardern and Labour won massively in the election. But we need to repair our economy and the wider damage done by corona though I am confident we’ll able to do so.’’

With regards to COVID-19, both New Zealanders say the situation has been ‘‘horrendous’’ and that especially in the post-COVID era, ‘‘nations should take lessons from us.’’

‘‘I think other nations need to take examples from us and it will be interesting for them to do so. There’s a lot of wisdom and information New Zealand has to share when it comes to pandemic responses,’’ Parr says.

‘‘This whole thing has also made me realise that business and insurance companies have contingency plans when it comes to terrorism, shootings, things burning down but nothing about health crises. It’s ironically funny.’’

Parr also says that given the lack of preparation, it has ‘‘contributed immensely’’ to economic damage and that ‘‘lessons need to be learned here also.’’

‘‘No one was prepared at all, so many businesses have failed especially in the tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors. The government has tried to give support but given the downturn, they’ve fallen,’’ he says.

‘‘There’s a bar and iconic music venue here called San Fran and it was about to fail but the wider Wellington community fundraised for it to stop it from failing. I really hope Ardern fixes issues up after COVID finishes otherwise this country will be damaged and that can only lead to bad.’’

Lindsay also expresses similar views.

‘‘Across NZ and the world, there’s been a lot of untold damage from this virus. We’re a globalised world, we’ve been spared much of the COVID horrors but it still affects us,’’ says Lindsay.

‘‘Governments and people need to their scientists more and in future, we need to and hopefully we will be prepared for public health crises.’’

As to whether the pandemic has changed their lives, both of them say ‘‘it hasn’t’’, not necessarily surprising considering that despite widespread economic and social damage, it hasn’t been to the same scale as other nations globally.

‘‘It hasn’t really affected or changed my life but that’s because I’m here in New Zealand. If I was elsewhere like Britain, it would, I’m grateful that I live here,’’ Lindsay says.

Parr agrees.

‘‘It hasn’t really affected me or changed my life but being in New Zealand, COVID just feels abstract and it’s shocking that it’s still prevalent elsewhere. It’s made me feel very lucky to be living where I am now,’’ he says.

However, both are optimistic for a post-COVID world and hope that ‘‘the world overall can become a better place.’’

‘‘With vaccines finally here, I’m really hoping things will get back to normal elsewhere as it has here. We have anti-vaxxers here but they’re the usual weirdos and they’re not prevalent like elsewhere especially America for example,’’ Parr says.

‘‘I want us and the world to become a fairer place. Starting here in New Zealand for example, I want us to sort out our problems with child poverty and housing. It’s abhorrent that there remains poverty in a nation like ours, and the housing issue is probably the worst thing about life here. It’s too pricey for most of us.’’

Parr also wants the economy to ‘‘return to normal’’ and for ‘‘more business to come to New Zealand.’’

‘‘In addition to fixing endemic problems, I want more business to come here and invest further. Much has during COVID, especially film production and other sectors, extra attention and investment is good for the country and stimulates the economy,’’ he says.

‘‘But until COVID-19 is eliminated or at least doesn’t pose a serious risk to people, we should keep our borders shut, we don’t have herd immunity, if we let people in, we will cause disaster and havoc at home.’’

Lindsay also has similar views.

‘‘The problems that we have here in New Zealand like poverty, housing and others. I hope they’ll be solved. Hopefully, the world will become a fairer place, it’ll be a new beginning,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m very happy to hear about the vaccine also. I feel confident and optimistic about it but I feel other nations like the US or the UK should get it first. They need it more than us.’’

Overall, Lindsay and Parr are ‘‘happy with life here as it is now’’ and are fiercely proud of their country.

‘‘I’m really lucky to call New Zealand home, I want us to prosper and I want the world to do so at the same time, it’s one big global community,’’ says Lindsay.

‘‘Indeed, I love this country and I’m lucky to live here also. I hope the rest of the world will eventually go back to normal soon, change for the better and overall, enjoy success and happiness together,’’ says Parr.

Rean Rehman

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