Sat at the bar, sipping a first gin and tonic and watching the queue for the 11.45 wind and sway its way back through the terminal, there was only one topic of conversation last Saturday night – and it wasn’t your usual cheery weekend chat of gigs and giggles.
All of us already had a coronavirus story. Some had even stepped up their research and were confident calling it by its more lab-coated name of Covid-19. But all of us had felt its impact.
The downtown hospo workers and managers spoke of dozens of daily cancellations from regular restaurant bookings as companies stopped entertaining clients and customers; the overseas couple worried about their return flights and openly feared the “floating petri dishes” – the cruise ships – towering over the terminal; a Waiheke business owner spoke of the casual staff missing out on shifts because visitors had pulled their island tours; two people who’d been at the Tool concert at Spark Arena compared notes about where they’d been sitting in comparison to the patient who’d tested positive for the virus and who’d been standing up the front on the left; we all mocked the laughable idea of panic-buying but then listed our own emergency supplies, our own readiness to cope with a couple of weeks of self-isolation. I greeted an old workmate I hadn’t seen in probably six or seven years with our once-customary hug and then wondered aloud whether, in this new virus-savvy world, we ought really to have bumped elbows.
On Waiheke, we’re used to thinking of ourselves as a community – the shoreline border creates a finite and obvious margin as to who we are – but Covid-19 doesn’t give a toss about simple geography and has thrown a giant spotlight on whether New Zealand is a tight community. The health, economic and social implications of the illness’s arrival in New Zealand are already being felt – that was blatantly true simply from a late-night bar conversation – but how we as a country handle the inevitability of further cases and further complications will speak volumes about how we cooperate across our regional, socio-economic and racial divides.
Writing in The Spinoff last week, former pandemic planner Richard Simpson said New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 provided a clearcut example of how the relationship between frontline health workers, politicians – even the media – should play out. It was “a singular event that brings all these decisions and competing philosophies into sharp focus”. He pointed to our ongoing public health emergencies – obesity, smoking, child welfare, diabetes, youth suicide, heart disease – and asked whether this was perhaps a chance to reassess all our responsibilities.
“While we can disagree on the best solution, isn’t Covid-19 an opportunity to find some common ground by endorsing the evidence-based health advice and telling all Kiwis we can each do our part?”
When Gulf News contacted health professionals this week to gauge how well prepared we are on Waiheke, the concept that we should “each do our part” came through loud and clear. Just as with the measles outbreak last year, there is a responsibility for residents to understand how to respond just as there is a responsibility for us to report sober and straightforward advice and facts that help our readers respond. In short, they’re prepared – and we should be prepared too.
Julie Cairns, general manager at Waiheke Health Trust, was clear that they had updated stocks of protective equipment and all their staff “are familiar with, and prepared for, responding to residents who have concerns attending any of the Medical Centres or coming into contact with our health professionals within their own homes”.
Jayme Kitiona, clinic manager at Oneroa Accident and Medical centre, also highlighted the importance of clear information.
“A key factor in managing pandemics and outbreaks of infectious disease is good clear and consistent information with the community. This was very effective for Waiheke during the measles outbreak and the support of local media was very effective in getting clear and timely messages out.”
Both reiterated their three key messages:
• Wash your hands – this is important ALL of the time – particularly with the normal flu season approaching. You can just use soap and water for 20 seconds. We will be promoting the annual flu vaccines very soon.
• If you are symptomatic and/or feeling unwell (sore throat, coughing, sneezing etc) – stay at home in the first instance – use good “coughing and sneezing” hygiene when in contact with other people. If you need to see a doctor – call the Medical Centre first.
• If people are feeling unwell and have recently travelled, or have been in contact with someone who has recently travelled and/or that person has been diagnosed as “positive” for the Covid virus – freecall Healthline for advice on 0800 358 5453.
It’s clear from a simple bar-room conversation that this virus is already making an impact on Kiwis’ lives. It’s also clear that there may well be more serious repercussions of Covid-19 for somewhere like Waiheke – especially when our economy is so precariously linked to tourism – and there will definitely be significant consequences for the country. How well prepared we all are – in terms of not only education and information but also in how we are able react as a community – will go a long way towards how successfully we emerge on the other side. • James Belfield