Two messes that should have been dealt with long ago

When I found myself vacuuming the floor of the basement, I suspected I had been home alone for too long.

The floor is concrete, so a broom and brush and shovel could have done the business.

But no, I dragged the vacuum cleaner down the path and set to. Years of detritus on the floor soon clogged up the hose, but did that deter me? No.

The neighbours, trapped at home in lockdown, may have noticed the swearing soundwaves wafting over the fence as I tried to rectify the situation. My only hope is they are more or less immune to the noise after all these years.

Rather than make me see the broom was a better option, this setback made me more determined to carry on with the vacuum cleaner.

After several more clogging/swearing/clearing incidents, the task was completed.

One of the enjoyable aspects of lockdown is the lack of interruption (although the peace has been shattered by my companion, who escaped to North Otago for work, phoning in several times a day with ‘‘amusing’’ snippets from a Margaret Thatcher biography. Since I lovingly gave him this tome for his birthday, knowing he may be Maggie’s biggest/only fan, I have only myself to blame.) Generally, solitude has meant I have been able to embark on what I call major tidying projects which others would immediately see for what they are, the shifting of junk from one place to another.

It doesn’t matter if the lounge floor is covered with my wool stash at the end of a night because I have been watching rubbish on TV instead of sorting it. Nobody can see it except the kitten, who thinks she may be in heaven.

Nor do I need to keep any record of how long I have been wearing my outer garments. Should I need to bike round to the shop for essentials, the sniff test can be deployed.

Relishing the privacy of my own home has led me to ponder anew on the privacy implications of compulsory record-keeping for Covid 19 contact tracing, particularly for those who will be using pen and paper records or electronic signing in when we visit businesses where records are required. It is not clear to me how compliance will be monitored.

Up until now, many businesses’ manual registers have lacked any sort of privacy. Indeed, I know someone who caught up with an acquaintance they had not seen for 20 years because that person saw their name on a cafe register and approached them. That was a pleasant encounter, but there have been instances where women have been stalked because a staff member used their contact details, and businesses have used the information for marketing purposes.

Ballot box systems seem sensible, although I was surprised to see at a Countdown I visited some shoppers had written their details on the form and then failed to secrete it in the box. I wonder how user-friendly the ballot box system will be for contact tracers in a busy place such as a library if, at the end of the day, the slips used are merely put in a dated envelope but not organised in chronological order.

Supermarkets and dairies and many shops are not covered by mandatory record-keeping rules, which adds confusion. The rationale was to target those areas where mask wearing is not practical, such as where food and drink are being consumed. (On the subject of confusion, the Ministry of Health video clip released last year featuring cute young Panatahi supposedly demonstrating the NZ Covid Tracer app, including using it in a pigpen, seemed like a wannabe Air New Zealand safety video and about as much use.)

Incongruous to me, as someone who chooses not to use a smartphone partly because of concerns over privacy, is that those using the app seem likely to have more control over their information than anyone recording details manually in businesses.

In an open letter written to the Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins last week, Dr Andrew Chen, a research fellow at Auckland University’s Koi Tu: The Centre for Informed Futures (and 116 others) sought legislation to clarify that data collected for contact tracing will only be used for that. Penalties for breaches need to be sufficient to be a deterrent.

Assurances given thus far do not ensure adequate protection against misuse of the information. The letter makes the important point that if people are frightened their information may be available to other agencies such as Immigration NZ, they may be reluctant to enter details.

Like my basement floor, this is not a new mess and should have been dealt with long before now. Unlike my vacuum cleaner experience, it needs to be straightforward and sensible.

  • Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.



Can you publish cartoons vs stuff like this please! I'm stunned that something like this would be published. Not informative, not entertaining and most definitely not funny.

IYO. Reader snippiness about this journalist of long standing is disrespectful and teejus. She does insightful narratives of real life..