Be strong. Be kind. No matter where we are in this world, we are all in this pandemic together.
This will be a serious post for Travels with Mr. Bill. Please let me extend a heartfelt thank you, to everyone who has written to enquire after Bill and I. Your kind words and prayers are much appreciated and please know, that we hold all of you close in our hearts.
We are well and are presently living in New Zealand, under the Corvid- 19, Alert Level 4, lockdown; which was implemented at 11:59 pm, on Tuesday, March 24th. It was a bold and wise move by the New Zealand government, to stop the community transmission of the disease and ‘flatten the curve’ of cases. In the words of Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, “we must go hard and we must go early”. New Zealand learned a sobering lesson, from Italy’s delayed response to outbreaks and imposed strict social distancing, sooner rather than later.
A national emergency alert was issued last Tuesday, March 24, at 6:30 pm, stating: “From 11:59 tonight, the whole of New Zealand moves to Covid-19 Alert Level 4. This message is for all of New Zealand. We are depending on you. Follow the rules and STAY HOME. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives. Remember: * Where you stay tonight is where you must stay from now on. * You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with It is likely Level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks. Let’s all do our bit to unite against Covid-19. Kia kaha”.
The borders have now been closed to all but returning NZ citizens and medical workers, coming to help. All domestic travel is banned, except for essential services. All businesses, shops, schools, child care centers, libraries, museums, churches, restaurants-including all take away, parks, playgrounds, farm stands etc., are all shuttered. Online shopping is only allowed for essential goods. If you are not working in an industry deemed essential, you may only drive to Doctors’ offices, hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations.
On Saturday, March 21, New Zealand was at level 2 with 56 cases of Corvid-19. All churches were closed and large gatherings were banned. people over 70 were told to self isolate and keep a safe social distance.
On Sunday, March 22 there were 70 cases.
On Monday morning, March 23, there were 102 cases. The country went to Alert Level 2-3. Sadly, the disease was following the same trajectory of other affected countries. It was a stark reminder, when the Prime Minister said, “We currently have 102 cases. But so did Italy once; now the virus has overwhelmed their health care system and hundreds of people are dying every day. The situation is moving at pace and so must we”. When Mr. Bill left for work that morning, he had an all day theatre list (scheduled operations). When he arrived at Whakatane Hospital, he was told that all elective surgeries were cancelled, in order to make beds available, for the expected cases of Corvid-19. Currently, he is only doing emergency operations and procedures for cancer patients. He still makes daily ward rounds on his patients in the hospital. When possible, his clinic patients and his post-op, follow up, visits are done over the phone, to lessen their risk of exposure .
On Monday afternoon, March 23 it was announced that the country would go to Alert level 3 for 48 hours, in order to give people time to prepare for Level 4 lockdown. Kiwis rushed home, from around the world and across the country, to beat Tuesday’s midnight deadline. There were long lines for the Cook Strait Ferries, as travellers queued to get to either the North or South Island, for their period of isolation. There was much panic buying of groceries and toilet paper, despite the government’s assurances, that New Zealand has more than enough of life’s necessities to go around.
On Tuesday, March 24, there were 205 cases and the country’s lockdown began.
Everyone is expected to be sheltering in place, inside their designated bubble. Going outside for fresh air and exercise is encouraged, as long as one keeps it local and maintains a safe two-meter distance. Walkers, runners and cyclists, now rule the roads, while keeping a healthy distance. Mr. Bill and I are blessed to have beautiful Ohope Beach on our front doorstep. Mr. Bill runs, while I prefer peddle power. Most everyone is doing their bit. Wash Your Hands. Stay Home-Save a Life. It’s that’s simple. Sadly, there are always some who will flout the rules. To help stop that, the police have set up a website, where you can report those not in compliance; it crashed on day one. You may not drive to exercise, outside of your neighbourhood and the Minister of Health, was dobed in to authorities, when he drove to a mountain bike trail. Just one person per household, is allowed to grocery shop. Numbers into stores are limited and once that has reached the maximum allowed, it’s strictly one out, one in. Shoppers wait outside, two meters apart in line. Before entering, your hands are sprayed with sanitiser, as well as the handle on your trolley. People are urged to only touch when they intend to buy and shop as quickly as possible. Prepared foods are no longer on offer. To prevent panic buying, purchases are limited to two of the same item. Check out queues are kept a safe distance from cashiers, who are behind plexiglass barriers. You bag your own groceries and cash as payment is discouraged.
It was a sobering choice to remain in New Zealand, when the travel bans were announced. My instinct, like that of the ladybug, was, “to fly away home”. The US Consulate closed in Auckland on March 20th. The State Department sent an email stating, “…in countries where commercial departure options remain available, US citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period”. At the end of the day, Mr. Bill could not abandon his patients and I’m stuck like glue to Mr. Bill. We do hope however, that by the end of Mr. Bill’s contract, travel restrictions will be eased and we will be able to leave. The Bay of Plenty DHB would be happy for Mr. Bill to stay on and his work visa would allow that but unfortunately, Simurgh, the Kiwi insurance company, that we have our medical coverage with, will not renew our policy beyond the original exit date. Not to have medical coverage would be reckless. As visitors, we are not entitled (nor should we be) to use the NZ health care system and our American policies, do not cover us over here. Since 2013 we have purchased our medical insurance from Simurgh, for when we are in New Zealand and happily have never needed it. The irony of a doctor being unable to get medical insurance, despite working in the health care system, is not lost on us. So do please say a prayer, that we will be able to leave, before our coverage ends.
To end a serious post on a happy note, our next door neighbours, Janis and David, have informed us, that on Friday evenings at 5:10, they will be on their balcony and along with Kiwis, all over New Zealand, will be raising a glass, to toast all medical workers.
Cheers, Mr. Bill. This one’s for you!