Four symptoms of pandemic survival syndrome

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    Today, Thursday 2 July, marks six months since the World Health Organisation first alerted its Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network partners about a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. 

    Since then, although coronavirus’ gruesome toll has topped half a million deaths and 10 million cases and the tendrils of economic instability have infiltrated every society on earth, New Zealand has remained relatively healthy. Our 22 Covid-linked deaths and 1500 or so confirmed and probable cases put us in a globally unique ringside situation to the unfolding disaster. 

    But that’s not to say New Zealanders haven’t been changed forever by what’s occurring outside our borders. While our seeming survival from this pandemic’s worst effects may see us back sitting elbow-to-elbow in our cafes and wineries or planning mid-Winter backyard breaks to help seed the economy with domestic tourism dollars, we are still displaying plenty of symptoms that all is not well.

    Hypervigilance. Clinic manager at Oneroa Accident and Medical Centre Jayme Kitiona says although the number of coronavirus tests carried out at the centre has fluctuated weekly since they started in March, she’s seen a marked increase in the past week. The total number of tests as of last Monday was 863 and included some carried out as part of the track-and-trace procedure following the breaches in border quarantine. And although as of last week there are new guidelines for testing, those same breaches have undeniably created nervousness in the community and a desire for far more of us to investigate any ache, pain or sniffle for signs of something worse.

    There is, of course, a good outcome from this hypervigilance and that’s that New Zealand is far healthier going into “flu season” than we usually would be. According to the self-reporting website FluTracking.net, although reports of fevers and coughs were starting to climb, they were still around only one percent of respondents compared to around four percent at this time in the previous two years.

    Insomnia. The good news about our health doesn’t, however, flow down to our personal economic outlooks and there are plenty of us suffering from sleepless nights worrying about friends or relatives overseas, our job security, our border quarantine breaches… the list goes on. Staring blankly at the ceiling as the wee small hours clock by is, however, a better use of the night time than venting your frustrations online as one senior manager at Fullers did this week when she sent a 3am message to the Fair Go Fullers Facebook site complaining that she was “tired and sad” of being berated for not having the ferry service running as normal. “This is hard – FOR EVERYONE… I get it – if you aren’t up for it – cool – go and do something else.” 

    It’s frankly surprising we haven’t seen more news stories about similar cases in these stressful times, but it is a salient reminder that anxiety, insomnia, anger and social media don’t mix.

    Ebulliophobia. The fear of bubbles is a natural reaction to listening to the constant push and pull of those in favour of opening up our borders to Australia while cities such as Melbourne continue to see spikes and community transmission. In the year ending February 2019, 39 percent of our international tourists came from across the Ditch so it’s only natural to want to invite them back again – especially for a tourism-dependant island such as Waiheke. It might be fine for the EU to want to open up to flying Kiwis, but our own New Zealand bubble is still too fragile to mess with.

    Myopia. Possibly the most dangerous side-effect of pandemic survival syndrome is the short-sightedness that comes linked to the relief that New Zealand is not in the same leaking boat as countries such as the US, India and Brazil. It can be all too easy to shut out the terrible, tragic death counts and tune out the warnings that the past six months are just the start of our battle against Covid-19.  On Monday, WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus marked those six months with a speech in which he talked about how the pandemic had brought out the best and worst of humanity – “All over the world we have seen heartwarming acts of resilience, inventiveness, solidarity and kindness. But we have also seen concerning signs of stigma, misinformation and the politicization of the pandemic.” But he also cautioned against myopia:

    “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is: this is not even close to being over.”
     James Belfield

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