Dear New Zealand,
I write this as Kiwi in the UK who has been living under ever-changing restrictions for nearly a year. I am truly grateful that my family and friends in NZ have been spared this.
Now that NZ is facing more variants and further restrictions, I see some down under are making the same mistakes which happened here. Mistakes like pouring over headlines and social media to find the culprit. Or dealing with uncertainty and fear by assigning blame on 'them', 'the others'.
I want to tell you what we have learned so far:
- It will get worse before it gets better.
- Protect what you have.
- Learn to live with uncertainty.
We are all afraid, but fear is not an excuse to cast blame, or to label people as ‘them’ or ‘other’.
I have heard it said that people in the UK are ignoring what is going on. ‘Why aren’t you angry about the lives you have lost?’ ‘Why are you ignoring the trauma which your front-line workers face every day?’
Believe me, we see it. We feel the losses.
I’m into double digits of the number of family members who have died, and of friends who have lost family in the last year. That is easily triple a normal year, but none had COVID-19. None of those loved ones are included in the statistics which grace our newspapers, websites and social media feeds. Yet, many of those deaths were still due to COVID-19. Across the country, how many were lost due to late diagnosis? Or from an exhausted health service trying to cope? Or because our usual safety nets are stretched beyond breaking point?
We feel all these losses. And yet, we are disconnected from them because we are unable to comfort our friends and family. We simply cannot be with our loved ones when a hug would do so much. All these losses and hidden grief and lack of recourse turn us numb.
We read with horror and despair of the trials which our frontline workers face. Of junior doctors crying in cupboards because the career which they embarked on with so much hope and out of a desire to help is now an unrelenting nightmare. And they have nowhere to go and no-one to turn to. Only a cupboard to cry in before returning to a ward full of yet more death and suffering.
We see this and we stay in. It is all we can do. It is the only tool we have while we wait for the wave to break and for the vaccines to arrive.
Meanwhile, we endure the smaller losses. The missed hugs, the uncelebrated births and birthdays. The lost weddings and Friday night beers. We haven’t seen our friends or family in person for months. For permitted daily exercise we walk down the middle of the road to avoid our neighbours, and they thank us for doing so. We try to ignore niggles in the joints which have weakened with a year away from the gym.
Then we come home, to more loss. Our horror and despair cools to anger. Then we hear another horror, another loss. And we face yet more despair, which turns to anger. Over and over again. Until we turn numb.
My point is not to wail and beat my chest, to cry ‘we have it much worse than you!’ But to point out what you do have. A chance to learn from the mistakes of others.
There is an impression that so many people have died in the UK because the population has been lax about COVID-19. This has even been fed by the UK Prime Minister who stated that the UK is a ‘freedom-loving country’1 and suggested the infection rate is the fault of a rebellious population which simply can’t live with restrictions on their liberty. (If ‘freedom-loving’ sounds a bit ‘Trumpian’ you are right, but that is a whole other can of worms.)
Before you factor this ‘freedom-loving’ statement into your reasoning for the UK’s huge death toll, bear in mind that this is the same PM who told parents it was safe to send their kids back to school. Only to close them the next day, after the children had mingled for hours. 2
The UK population is not, in general, so rebellious or ‘freedom-loving’ as to ignore a death toll as scandalous as this one. That U-turn, one of many in the past year 3, came about because scores of parents and teachers refused to believe the PM. Many schools remained closed, their children staying home, despite his reassurances. Faced with two awful choices, most in the UK preferred a lockdown to a higher death toll.
Yes, there are always those who break the safeguards in place. And there will always be people who believe that the rules don’t apply to them. And there will always be a temptation to say ‘if they are doing it, then why can’t I?’ And there will always be people who seize your uncertainty and fear for their own gain, or to mask their failings.
But just because someone is being a dick, it doesn’t mean you should be a dick too.
And when someone is assigning blame, and labelling people as ‘them’ or ‘other’, ask what that person gains from division.
Now is the time to hold yourself to a higher standard. And to remember that most people around you are simply trying to do the same.
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/22/johnson-refuses-to-rule-out-second-covid-19-lockdown-amid-new-restrictions ↩︎
- https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/05/school-boris-johnson-national-lockdown-prime-minister-mistakes ↩︎
- https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-school-meals-prime-minister-u-turns-brexit-a9568956.html ↩︎