What’s important

12 April 2020

Like most people, when something significant happens in the country or the world, my first thought is ‘how will this affect my children?’ and then ‘how will this affect me?’ And it was no different when the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent. After I’d cognised that my children were safely isolated and still had jobs and food and that that applied to me too, I belatedly started to think more broadly.

We live in a house on a farm in the Waikato countryside. To be in lockdown here is scarcely a hardship – we can walk outside whenever we like, we have country roads to walk or cycle down while maintaining our bubble, we have supermarkets within easy reach and the wherewithal to buy groceries. Compare this with people who live in cramped conditions with no outlook and no private outdoor areas, or those who’ve lost their employment and have to worry about how long their money will last, or the chronically ill for whom contracting the virus would be a death knell. The list goes on and on.

It is a cliché to say that this worldwide pandemic has shown us what’s really important but, like all clichés, it’s true. The lowly paid in our society are now our heroes – nurses, care-workers, supermarket shelf-stackers and check-out operators. A parent was heard to exclaim ‘How do teachers do it? These children simply won’t listen!’ Things that we were told could never happen have happened seemingly overnight. A photo in an online newspaper of high white mountains against a bright blue sky with the headline ‘Himalayas are visible from India for the first time in 30 years’. Climate scientists and health experts, who have been recommending reductions in emissions for decades, must be longing to say, ‘we told you so’. Homeless people, who became human faces when everyone else disappeared behind their front doors, are being housed in motels that would otherwise be empty now that no-one is travelling. Experts are back in fashion. We listen every day to Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s competent, reassuring voice and we’ve reassessed our opinion of civil servants who we previously thought of, if we thought of them at all, as faceless, behind-the-scenes drones.

This pandemic has also brought much uncertainty, not least about what our society and economy will be like when it’s all over. There will be no going back to what it was before and perhaps this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reorder our society, to learn from what we’ve been through and to remember what was important when we had our backs against the wall.