Life after lockdown: World watches as New Zealand slowly emerges from isolation

Published: May. 26, 2020 at 5:15 PM CDT
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NEW ZEALAND (WBRC) - With only 21 deaths and 1,504 confirmed cases of COVID-19, New Zealand is being touted as one of the most exemplary countries when it comes to handling the global coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand’s quick and intense response led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern included four levels of restrictions; four weeks of Level 4, an almost total shut down where only essential travel and business was allowed, followed by seven weeks of Level 3 where some non-essential businesses could reopen.

New Zealand restricted foreigners from coming into the country on March 19, and began the first lockdown measures on March 16. Arden also promoted the idea of socializing only with a small “bubble” of people, typically a household, immediate family or roommates, and later expanded to allow a few more people in.

The country is now in Level 2, allowing schools and businesses to reopen with social distancing measures and a 10-person group limit, but starting on May 29, groups of up to 100 people will be allowed.

Geographic advantage in a global pandemic

New Zealand is made up of two main islands in the Pacific, giving the country an advantage of having clear borders, with the ocean as an isolation barrier.

“I know New Zealand is being used as a positive example around the world but it's not a fair comparison compared to other countries, especially a place like the U.S.,” Franziska Plimmer of Christchurch, New Zealand said.

“The fact that New Zealand is an island means it's been very easy to close borders and our population is tiny and we have a lot of space to move around. It means we were still able to get out into nature during lockdown and easily keep 2 meter distance while out and about,” Plimmer added.

Plimmer is on staff with The Navigators student ministry at the University of Canterbury. Like many people around the world, her work shifted completely online in the first few weeks of lockdown.

Now under Level 2, she’s looking forward to meeting face to face with some students and having a small group of students over for dinner soon.

One of the first things she did after the country moved to Level 2 was spend time with her boyfriend Jono, who she hadn’t seen in person for several weeks due to the restrictions. To remind her of his devotion, he created a sign saying “I love you” with lights that she could see from her window while they were apart.

Franziska Plimmer’s boyfriend wrote “I love you” in lights for her to see from her window,...
Franziska Plimmer’s boyfriend wrote “I love you” in lights for her to see from her window, since they were in different bubbles during the first weeks of lockdown(Franziska Plimmer)

Jordan Treanor, a a production technician for SYFT Technologies in Christchurch, agrees that New Zealand’s remote location, coupled with swift action from the prime minister, have given it an advantage in the global fight against the coronavirus.

“I do think in New Zealand, we have an advantage over other countries, given that our borders are shut and the fact that we’re all contained in a small population island has meant that COVID cases have been easy to track and isolate,” Treanor said.

Toddlers (and moms) excited to hug again

For a mom of two toddlers, life in lockdown has its own unique set of challenges.

Alicia Frances, an American married to a New Zealander, said her bubble consisted of only her husband Nathan and their two children for the first few weeks, then expanded to include her in-laws during Level 3.

In the first few weeks, they could only drive to the supermarket or doctor’s office.

“We went for lots and lots of walks and did much more story-based play, joined two online music groups for music lessons online,” she said.

Frances said some of the hardest parts were missing hugs from her friends, not being able to take her toddlers to the beach or playground, and missing the in-person support from grandparents.

Now under Level 2, she said life feels “almost totally back to normal.”

“It’s nice to host friends for a dinner at home, get takeouts, get coffee out, play on the playground and attend Playcentre, (a kindergarten-like play area for kids and their parents). We still will have church online, but will be going to a church family’s home to worship with them while it streams,” she said.

Frances said it was hard to explain to her young daughter why they couldn’t get close to her friends if they happened to see them on a walk.

“I just told her we were pretending that we were all sick, but she was very happy to be able to give her a hug the day after the lockdown was lifted to level 2,” she said.

Alicia Frances’ daughter was thrilled to give her friend a hug after the country moved to a...
Alicia Frances’ daughter was thrilled to give her friend a hug after the country moved to a Level 2 alert in mid- May.(Alicia Frances)

Social distancing reminders among ‘bustling’ shops

Joy Britten, a philosophy student and tutor at the University of Auckland, said all of her classes moved online even before the official lockdown began.

Her “bubble” consisted of her parents, brother and sister, who were all able to shift their jobs and studying to home. “It became quite the home office,” she said.

Her university classes will remain online for another month until the end of the semester, but many other schools have already resumed meeting in person. Britten said she’s already made plans to hang out with friends in person, though they’ll be sticking to the 10-person limit.

“I went to the shops for the first time today, and it felt nearly as bustling as usual, if you ignore the yellow posters scattered around to remind us of distancing, the queue spacing dots on the ground, and the hand sanitizer at shop entrances,” she said.

"People definitely seem to be warier of each other in the way they move, and plastic shields at the counter are new. My friend went to a cafe where the staff were wearing plastic aprons, gloves, and whole-face masks. There’s been quite a community spirit of willingness to go out and buy, support local businesses who’ve suffered from lockdown,” Britten added.

Joy Britten studies philosophy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand’s largest city of...
Joy Britten studies philosophy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland.(Joy Britten)

‘Almost’ back to normal

Jordan Treanor in Christchurch said during the lockdown, it was a novel experience to wake up and be immediately at work, since his desk was beside his bed.

“The close proximity became more enjoyable after a while, given I work flexible hours, I was never late to work once,” he quipped.

He missed going over to friends’ houses for a cup of tea or game of pool, but felt grateful for breaks to get outside and exercise, often going for a bike ride around the “desolate” university campus nearby.

“At one point on a walk, I was walking down the middle of a road that would usually have traffic non-stop. It was the first time I could look at both ends of the one-mile stretch of road without seeing a single set of headlights,” Treanor said.

He said the hardest part of quarantine was being unable to directly spend time with people you care about, “especially friends who struggle with mental health or those isolated.”

Now under Level 2, he says, “It almost seems like life has gone back to normal, aside from the fact that social distancing is being enforced,” Treanor observed.

Jordan Treanor took this photo of an empty sports field at a university on an evening walk...
Jordan Treanor took this photo of an empty sports field at a university on an evening walk during the lockdown.(Jordan Treanor)

Silver linings from the lockdown

Joy Britten said during the last few weeks of studying from home, she’s enjoyed not having to commute an hour each way to her university. Another silver lining has been finding ways her family and friends can connect online.

“For example, on Mother’s Day we had a Zoom with nearly all of my grandmother’s family, across three countries. We could have done that before this year, but we never thought to,” Britten said.

Since the pandemic canceled international and local work trips for her husband, Alicia Frances said they’ve enjoyed lot more family time together, which has been sweet. And as New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, they’ve been taking advantage of the autumn weather with outdoor walks.

“We enjoyed the autumn season much more as the only way we left the house was to talk a walk in the park. I don’t know how many acorns made it into our house hidden in my toddlers' coat pockets,” she said.

Franziska Plimmer said the lockdown has been a restful time for her.

"As an introvert I find people quite tiring so the decreased socialness of lockdown was nice. I also feel like God taught me a lot during the time, mainly about prayer and just how important prayer is,” she said.

Franziska Plimmer looped through this bush walk (hike) through the University of Canterbury...
Franziska Plimmer looped through this bush walk (hike) through the University of Canterbury ‘many, many, many times’ during lockdown.(Franziska Plimmer)

Jordan Treanor, whose initial bubble consisted of just his two flatmates, said the lockdown resulted in better connection with people.

“One silver lining was the effort people made to connect with each other. People made an effort to reach out to those they hadn’t heard from in a long while,” he said.

As restrictions ease up, he’s looking forward to going mountain biking with friends, seeing his workmates and traveling again.

“It really struck me how much of a joy it is to travel, even if it’s just the commute to work. It really helps to structure the day,” he said.

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