My sister Christine came out to New Zealand from London for the summer, as she usually does. She arrived on Christmas Day for an eight-week stay. Now it is mid-April, and she is still here. Thank goodness.
Chris flew over on China Southern, which travels via Guangzhou. The early cancellation of her flight home, scheduled for 17 February, was made by the airline on commercial rather than health grounds. There were few cases in that region; it is just that no-one much wanted to travel to China.
She did book an alternative flight in early March via Los Angeles but then made the decision to see out the virus here, with the idea of returning home in May, after seeing the spread of cases in the UK and USA, and facing lockdown alone in London.
Everything we now know confirms what a good decision that was. I feel very sorry for all the UK residents who are stranded in New Zealand and other countries, with no support and fast running out of money. It must be incredibly stressful.
But for my sister, New Zealand means a comfy home, no money worries, a large garden to sit in and breathe fresh air, companionship, a fat ginger cat that adores her and – me!
We have been in lockdown now for over three weeks. We watch the international and local news every day and peer obsessively at the statistics. Can I say that things have not been looking good in the UK?
First was the spectacle of the ‘invincible’ Boris shaking hands with everyone and getting sick. What an idiot! This is New Zealand’s official new term for those who act stupidly during the lockdown. We have several idiots here (including our Minister of Health), but none like Boris. We are hoping that his time trying to survive in intensive care, with Jenny from Invercargill to help, might have changed him a lot. We are expecting great things from him.
Then we have seen your numbers rising and rising. It took a while for your lockdown to take effect and maybe the peak is still to come. You flirted with herd immunity and ‘lock up the olds’ until you realised what that would actually mean in terms of thousands of old people dying alone.
Your fatality rate, now at 13% and rising, is shockingly high. How is it so high (and some say a lot higher)? Your National Health Service is supposed to be the model of public health for the world. But your fatality rate is now equal to Italy’s as the highest in the world. You are killing off health workers in huge numbers. How could the possibly happen?
Some of Chris’s older friends are afraid to go out to the supermarket yet are having immense problems organising home deliveries of food. They are depressed and upset and feel neglected.
The streets of central London, where Chris lives, are empty. The shops are shut and there is nowhere to go for a meal or entertainment. Lovely London is, currently, not a good place to be, even though spring is there. The sun shines onto empty streets, largely. Big cities can be lonely places.
New Zealand grows most of its own food, and it is autumn, where vegetables abound. There are worries about food security in the UK and whether shortages will occur. While some romanticise the blitz spirit of the second world war, the reality of rationing of basic foods would hit quite hard, I think.
Chris has a six-month visa, but New Zealand immigration has already written to her and extended it until September. She hopes to get home before that, but this is up to you, not her. She is pleased to hear that you are sending planes to rescue those from the UK in this country who are not in such comfortable circumstances, but don’t expect her to be at the front of the queue.
New Zealand is fortunate in its geographical isolation, its small population, plenty of space and bounteous resources. We have a political leader who is clear and compassionate, and the government’s advice is accepted by most (but see ‘idiots’, above). We have a chance in the short term to eliminate the virus from these shores. What this means for the longer term, I do not know.
So thanks to the UK for the gift of a sister in these difficult times. It has been great to have her here. Best of luck in your endeavours to overcome the virus and get back to normal life.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.