After five weeks in the strict Covid-19 lockdown of alert level four, New Zealand today begins a fortnight – at least – in a less stringent version, alert level three. In a message to New Zealanders, Siouxsie Wiles warns this may be the trickiest phase yet. With illustrations and animations by Toby Morris.
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We wake today at alert level three. We are here because of the incredible job everyone has done while we have been in lockdown at alert level four. No one doubts how hard this has been for so many people. For their mental and physical wellbeing. For their livelihoods. This global pandemic has turned our world upside down.
To everyone who has stayed in their bubble, cutting off physical contact with so many family, friends, and neighbours – thank you. To all the essential workers who had to leave their bubble so the rest of us could stay in ours – thank you. Because of you all, we have stopped Covid-19 from spreading like wildfire through our communities.
By acting as we have, we broke the chains of transmission and likely saved thousands and thousands of lives. We should all be really proud of ourselves. Sadly, we weren’t able to save everyone. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have already died from Covid-19 and those who may still die in the weeks to come.
Today we start the next crucial phase in our Covid-19 journey. In many ways, this may be the trickiest phase yet. While many countries around the world watch us with wonder and envy, here we have people who honestly believe we over-reacted. They point to the empty ICU beds and argue that means the warnings were wild or fanciful. They maintain that Covid-19 is just a bad flu, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. They believe we need to get back to level two, or even level one, right now.
In my view that is a truly terrible idea. You know how I said that we’ve stopped Covid-19 spreading like wildfire? Well, here’s the thing. There may still be some smouldering ashes out there. And they have the potential to become a wildfire again if we give them the chance. It can take from two to 10 days for people who are exposed to the Covid-19 coronavirus to come down with symptoms. That means we wouldn’t smell the smoke for a few weeks. And that could put us back where we started before the lockdown.
Don’t take my word for it. In early March, Prof Sir Roy Anderson and his colleagues published an article in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet. Anderson is a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London and chief scientist at the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In the article, they argued that it was really important for countries that were stopping the spread of Covid-19 to resist becoming complacent or halt necessary measures “perhaps to mitigate economic impact”. Their article included a chart that Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris has brought to life.
In other words, if we turn our backs for a minute, we’ll be on the path to a serious outbreak once again. And we’ve seen this happen overseas. The last thing we want is to be going in and out of an alert level four lockdown. I’ve seen some put it this way: if you are going to jump out of an airplane, you wear a parachute. But you don’t take off the parachute before you’ve safely landed!
So, everyone, follow the rules of the alert levels. At alert level three, that means if you can stay home in your bubble, you must. Don’t send your children to school or daycare unless you have to. Don’t expand your bubble to include other people unless it’s really necessary. Don’t go doing any sneaky quick catchups with neighbours, friends, or family. For many of us this will feel like level four minus a sliver. But that’s because we still need those fire breaks, just for a little longer. For those of you going back to work, take care of yourselves, and keep up with that physical distancing and hand washing.
Let’s finish what we started.
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