Isolation for community

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Covid-19 has set us into an age of self-isolation and social distancing. Both are prudent and necessary as we confront a virus for which there is no vaccine, but they must be tempered by the ever-present need to maintain community.

It offers quite the paradox. On one hand, we are told to keep a safe distance from each other to reduce the transmission of illnesses that may overwhelm our health system. On the other, we know we must look out for one another.

There must be a sense of us all being in this together if we are to emerge from the public health response at least as good as we were before the global pandemic started. And, by and large, there is plenty to buoy us.

Early reports suggest the vast majority of New Zealanders returning from overseas are taking the need to self isolate very seriously. People who can work from home, are. People who might otherwise go to work sick, are not.

At the same time, there has been something of a local-level mobilisation in the rapidly expanding sense of lockdown.

Social media sites — outside the dark corners where trolls and the gullible peddle fake virus news and Covid-19 conspiracies — are now places people offer grocery pickups and wellness visits to the ill and the aged.

Neighbourhoods are more connected. It would be twee to say everyone suddenly knows their neighbours, but there is no doubt many of us are now much more aware of who may need our help — or who might need to help us.

It has taken a significant national emergency for this to happen. We would do well to consider some of these connections — the elderly, the single, the new arrivals — may have been isolated and socially distant before the pandemic.

We would also do well to consider the impact of our rush to preparedness. There is simply no need for us to strip-mine supermarket shelves for supplies to see us through a lockdown that has yet to happen.

The empty shelves, bustling aisles and winding queues produce a sense of chaos, and feed a sense of panic. This might not always be clear to the able and comfortable, but it is to the aged and the struggling.

Our supermarkets assure us they have strong and speedy supply lines. And surely, there is a limit to how much bread, toilet paper, sanitiser, soap, paracetamol and porridge a person can use in a fortnight.

The ramped-up virus response will cost many jobs, bringing new focus to how we traditionally support those in strife. The Government’s virus response package boosted benefits and did not postpone increasing the minimum wage. We were told those who receive it will spend it: they seldom have the means to do anything else.

The package boosted the winter heating payment. Leaving things as they were last winter risks allowing too many people to get sick: a risk worth taking last year, it seems, is now not an option.

Other issues have been highlighted. Talk of ‘‘recalling’’ retired doctors and nurses to help out underscores the reality of a health system dogged by specialty shortages, and the funding of a system many professionals leave.

As some called for schools to close, it also became clear hundreds of low-income families have nothing other than a parent’s mobile phone on which a stay-at-home pupil may access their course work.

Get used to hearing more about the ‘‘vulnerable’’. They have always been with us. But we remain in this, together.

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On top to vulnerable can happen in a New York minute.

 

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