Earlier in the pandemic, there was a useful reminder to build up a set of personal precautions as if everyone you met could have a life-threatening and highly contagious illness. And to treat every encounter as if you yourself might have become contagious.
Both scenarios are now, literally, true. This week’s “opening up” is not some sort of wind-down. Predictions of on escalating number of cases are not just “modelling”. Christmas or no Christmas, we are going to have to be grownups now.
We gave compliance in the interests of our society our best shot. Now household and collective responsibility at grass roots level has to be found. Along with specific and vital information and resources to support those diagnosed with the virus and their close family contacts in new regimes for meaningful home self-isolation and adequate clinical support.
We’ve known the obvious flaws of macro centralised governance and its tendency to disconnect with implementation at ground level. Now we have to start approaching the issues from the new perspective of personal and community responsibility.
A week on, the relevant mainland health authorities are still murky about Waiheke’s two positive wastewater tests and its implications. Even after renewed questioning from Gulf News as to the implications of the Owhanake Wastewater Treatment plant showing traces of Covid, the Ministry of Health reverted to its original, flawed conclusion that the test could be explained away by the original single Covid-positive case self-isolating on the island. No matter that they were miles and a few thousand septic tanks away from the island’s only and extremely limited wastewater treatment plant at Matiatia.
At this pivotal moment, there is another existential challenge with increasing media alarm about reckless and violent social media misinformation pumped out into social media, much of it repurposed from the US and Australia.
In a collaboration between the department of physics at the University of Auckland and the Centre for Science in Society, researchers Kate Hannah, Sanjana Hattotuwa and Kayli Taylor analysed large volumes of data on platforms including Telegram, Facebook and Instagram since February 2020.
They concluded the new disinformation “landscape” was “sophisticated, motivated, adaptive, resilient, increasingly violent and significantly volatile” with a shift from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine resistance among the core groups monitored on Telegram.
The project’s latest Disinformation Report showed an unprecedented “trajectory of growth and spread that is increasing, widening, and deepening every week”.
The recent Covid-19 outbreak and the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine were used to “push various far-Right and conservative views” including gun control laws into a whole range of traditionally incompatible social justice issues such as rural land rights, use of 1080, Māori sovereignty land rights, “free speech”, abortion, euthanasia and cannabis law reform.
Language has become more violent and graphic and women associated with the Covid-19 response such as politicians, healthcare professionals or experts “are being targeted individually for harassment”, they said.
There is a reason why Covid vaccine uptake among older people has been so successful and it probably doesn’t have much to do with being afraid of an imminent possibility of dying a particularly dreadful death drowning in lung fluid. It could have something to do with not wanting to see beloved family and friends facing that ghastly fate or, worse, of being the vector that inflicted that horror among them.
But buried even deeper even than that, my generation has memories that go back before near mandatory vaccines had effectively rubbed out diphtheria, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella and tetanus by about the year 2000.
Required reading in my own schooldays included such harrowing biographies as 12-year-old Peg Kehraet’s account of a year with polio in Small Steps and Kentucky 13-year-old Regina Woods’ Tales of an Iron Lung.
New Zealand had been vaccinating against diphtheria since 1926 and got the poliomyelitis (IPV) vaccine in 1956. By 1960 it was offered to those aged six months to 21 years.
At about the same time in the US, there was a renewed focus on vaccinating school children across the country because of measles outbreaks and in 1977 50 states widely adopted mandatory school vaccinations. The exercise confirmed that jurisdictions that strictly enforced mandates that excluded unvaccinated children had lower incident rates. Vaccination is still common for school entry in the country and the staff of Fox News, for all the channel’s 60 percent of anti-vaccine content, is fully Covid-vaccinated.
Medical science removed the spectre of young polio victims sentenced to lifetimes of breathing through an iron lung in our lifetime and I think we had the grace to be thankful. The world’s an infinitely complicated place and it takes a bit of life to know we are all part of that intricate and often magnificent whole. • Liz Waters