The year so far – part 1 – how did we get to lockdown?

I think I should have revived this blog at the beginning of the year or last year to have documented the course of the pandemic. It is an exceptional event (some say the most significant event worldwide since World Wide II). There are examples of personal diaries that incidentally documented world events. The diary of Samuel Pepys is interesting as it was written in London over the period of plague and fire as well as political change. The best example so far from this pandemic is Fang Fang’s diary from Wuhan (here in chinese – or available as a book in English).

Let me try to reconstruct it. It will exclude lot of personal stuff, but also miss some interesting things which look trivial in hindsight. It is hard to remember when the world ran out of masks, hand sanitiser and toilet paper.

2 December 2019: I decided to ride to work every day in Summer. I used my old (very old) road bike. It was slow (lots of people passed me), but I managed to get to work with all the showering gear and clothes I needed. As the days went on I got better at it but the limitations of my old bike became apparent. I broke a lot of spokes in my back wheel. I repaired it enough to get home.

24 December: Christmas eve – I left work early. In Petone I ran into the back of a car and broke a brake cable. I don’t know whether the cable broke causing me to hit the car, or broke after hitting the car. I bought a new cable and fixed it, but it really is time to get a new bike.

The view from Rangiwahia hut near Palmerston North 27 December 2019
Rangiwahia hut 27 December 2019

30 December: After coming back from holiday in Palmerston North. I ordered a new bike. of course I would not get it immediately due to holidays. Australian bush fires are starting to affect NZ. The air smells of smoke.

1 January 2020: I read a report that SARS was back in China. Someone (later named as Li Wenliang) posted a message on Wechat, and was admonished for spreading rumours. An outbreak of unexplained pneumonia was reported to WHO. Smoke from bush files more noticeable.

3 January: A lovely still day – I paddled down the river and across to Matiu/Soames Island. No camera to take a photo to prove it. Tension overseas as the US murder an Iranian leader in Iraq.

6 January: Back to work (on my son’s mountain bike). Not many people around town as a lot of people don’t start again until 13th. Lots of cafes and lunch places still closed. Generally I get my lunches from the New World supermarket.

8 January: My new bike arrived. I had to buy pedals and shoes, so it was not until the 10th that I could ride to work. It was much more enjoyable to ride, and I was much faster. I also ordered some more gear (lights, clothes bag etc) from Aliexpress in China.

16 January: Japan reported its first case of the virus. Suddenly it looks closer to my son, studying in Kobe.

20 January: the fish and chip shop across the road from work has a note saying that they have come back from China (Guangzhou), but will stay closed for another week as they didn’t want to risk spreading the virus – as cases had been reported in Guangzhou.

23 January: the world watched in amazement as China locked down Wuhan, and restricted travel elsewhere.

28 January: New Zealand banned travel from China (against the advice of WHO). WHO didn’t appreciate how poorly prepared NZ was for such a disease. My bike accessories are going to take longer to arrive from China.

3 February: Share prices down in NZ due to worries about tourism and education markets.

4 February: Mercy flight bringing 158 New Zealanders from Wuhan arrived. The passengers go to quarantine in Whangaparaoa for 2 weeks.

17 February: memorial for cyclist killed on SH2 a few weeks ago.

25 February: Big drop in share price all over the world as Chinese production dries up and recession looks inevitable.

28 February: first confirmed case of the virus in NZ in a woman who traveled from Iran.

2 March: Travelers from Northern Italy and South Korea are required to self-isolate for 2 week.

16 March: I bought a freezer to stock up on meat. Who knows what is going to happen, but NZ is not immune to what is happening overseas. Time to start hoarding flour, rice, canned food etc.

18 March: the government warns NZers overseas to come home while they still can.

21 March: The PM announces the 4 level alert system and says that NZ will immediately go to level 2.

23 March: With confirmed infections growing the PM announces that NZ will move to level 3 and that level 4 will start in 2 days time for 4 weeks. I go home early to get my home office set up.

24 March: I return to the office (by bike) to pick up some more possessions, and to reset my password in anticipation that it might be difficult from home. Lots of people were taking chairs desks, screens etc home so that they could set up. Nobody knew how long before we could return.

26 March: Working from home: At lunchtime I went out for a bike ride around the Hutt valley. There were almost no cars. It was quiet, and the smells had gone. I could enjoy lockdown I think.

Back to the blog

The toastmaster’s project “Write a compelling blog”.

The project requires me to write a minimum of 8 blog posts in a month. That means that I will be adding a post every 2-3 days to this blog during September. I will probably write about the things that occupy my thoughts:

  • toastmasters
  • cycling
  • work (technology)
  • politics
  • covid-19

I might also throw in something else just to confuse people.

So lots have happened since I last picked up my pen keyboard. In response to the pandemic, NZ has settled on a strategy of elimination and we experienced 5 weeks of stringent lockdown, followed by slowly freeing up until we had 2 months of almost normality. Now that we are in the second phase of a second wave it might be another 2 weeks of level 2 before we can breathe again.

So yesterday, I decided I needed to go back to the office and toastmasters. It was great to get back on the bike, and as a bonus the days have lengthened to the point that it was light at 7am when I left home. Traffic seemed as heavy as ever, and my legs seemed sluggish after days of inactivity.

My bike – I have acquired more lights since this photo was taken.
The sort of hazards I encounter cycling to work
A more scenic part of the commute

The office was mostly empty with only 3 others on my part of the floor. It was nice to visit a cafe for lunch and have some real conversations. Work meetings were online and I could have done everything from home just as easily. This is our new normal – we are allowed to go to the office but no more than half of us can be there at once. No more than 2 people in a lift at a time, and the stairs are marked, one set for up and the other for down. Most people are happy to stay at home.

Toastmasters at level 2 is much the same without the handshakes. We space the chairs out and probably our capacity is not much more than 10.

More people are scanning the QR codes, but still not enough. The only way we can avoid lockdowns is to know quickly who we are in contact with so tracing is quick. We will continue to get outbreaks. People and goods are coming and going and although we make the odds of infection form each interaction low, over time it adds up. NZ’s situation of many weeks of level 1 freedom interspersed with 2-4 weeks of restrictions when some gets through, is probably the best we can get. It would be nice to think we can share travel bubbles with the islands (without putting them at risk) or other countries (without putting us at risk), but that seems far off.

I wrote a speech (below) 3 years ago about voting and the election. I pondered how the chosen government would react to a war, a recession or earthquake. I didn’t think about a terrorist attack, a volcano or a pandemic, but I am happy with our choice, as I think the leadership we have experienced has been exemplary.

…and just as I write this, I learn that someone has died from covid-19 in Middlemore. It seems he has been in ICU on a ventilator for some time. It is very sad, and underlines how much we need to control the virus until we have effective medicines and/or a vaccine.