A sense of perspective


    They were there about to board the bus at the top of Goodwin Ave – masked and be-suitcased, travel cards at the ready. Round midday on Sunday.

    It was only notable because the bus hadn’t really pulled over into its stop and I had to nudge carefully into the other lane on what’s a pretty blind corner… anyway, I wasn’t paying too much attention – the mind more focused on the cheese I was off to purchase in Oneroa to make up for the block I’d forgotten from my earlier trip to the supermarket.

    But then, there they were again. Round 12.25, as I headed home with a packet of parmesan lounging in the passenger seat. Still masked and clutching the cases. Still in the same stop. Only this time bus-less.

    It seemed only right to double back to find out if they were OK, and it turned out that, despite giving themselves plenty of time to catch public transport to their departing ferry, and despite conforming to all Covid regulations, they’d been refused entry to the bus that first time around. Already full to capacity, they said. Well, they added, to the capacity the bus was allowed with social distancing. There would have been about 15 on board, they reckoned. What I’d seen 25 minutes earlier – why the driver hadn’t pulled fully into the stop – was, they said, them being told that, yes, they would probably miss their departing ferry, but sorry, they weren’t going to get on to this bus.

    Considering everything, they were in good spirits. Relatively chatty, as the three of us – all masked up, and with the cases lodged on the back seat and the cheese now stowed in the glove compartment – headed down to Matiatia to see if they could still make their boat.

    And as I waved them off, although I couldn’t tell if they were smiling – that’s another problem with masks, you just can’t read faces any more – it seemed by their jaunty thanks and gentle strides that no day had been ruined.

    The pandemic has thrown more than a few hurdles at our everyday lives. But the reason for the above anecdote is to show many of those hurdles aren’t insurmountable, and in many ways they’ve become part of the mundane daily struggle through life. Like forgetting the cheese, when you’re out shopping. Yes, they’re barriers to how we’d usually want to live our lives, but they’re the symptoms of a world scrabbling to catch up with Covid – and certainly not, as some would have it, the root cause of our discomfort.

    Perhaps because of the magnitude of the horrific global death tolls, the stress of economic meltdown and the constant anxiety of knowing humanity’s in the grip of an existential threat we simply can’t control, it seems that some of these lesser hurdles are the ones that make us flip out.

    While billions of dollars and the greatest scientific minds of a generation are being thrown at potential vaccines and therapeutics, headlines are as likely to focus on marches against lockdowns or protests against masks. There’s not enough social distancing on the ferries, I hear; there’s not enough mask-wearing at Countdown, some say; so-and-so didn’t sign in at the coffee shop, they write; making me wear a mask is an insult to my civil liberty, others cry.

    Much of this is patently ridiculous. A ferry halted in the Hauraki Gulf while the master deals with an unruly mask-less passenger with an infantile argument about not being a “slave” would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact it’s a direct match to a story out of New York only a week ago when a middle-aged couple from Brooklyn caused an hour-long standoff as they argued their case for non-conformity.

    The other commonality between the stories? The almost word-for-word report that other passengers on both ferries pleaded for the mask-less morons to get a grip “so we can just get home”.

    Right from the start of this crisis in New Zealand, legislation has struggled to keep up with what we know about the illness and legislators have relied on cooperation as they refine regulations to find the balance between personal safety, national security and economic continuity. 

    Voices of sense, such as epidemiologist Michael Baker, point to the fact that our gradual uptake of rules around social distancing and masks is because “New Zealand has escaped the worst of the pandemic – our lives haven’t been blighted in the way it has overseas” while also pointing to the fact that “change is difficult”.

    In other words, our very success is the root cause of some of the disquiet.

    The simple fact is that the evolution of our precautions are the reason for the country’s enviable case and mortality rate for Covid-19. Patience is wearing thin in some sectors – notably business– but the ongoing refinement of legislation seems to be getting us through relatively unscathed compared to the hellish experiences of other nations.  

    Yes, buses will be missed (although it’s telling that on Monday, social distancing rules for public transport were relaxed so that my couple would have been allowed on at the top of Goodwin Ave), but we surely can’t forget that the enemy here is a virus, not the rules designed to keep that virus at bay. • James Belfield

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