two metres

With the government over the last weekend unveiling a new four-stage pandemic alert scale, and declaring we were on level 2, both R. & my places of work told us to start working from home for the foreseeable future.

So on Monday morning we started, with a renewed sense of being fortunate for what we have and being able to work through this and not suffer the uncertainty that so many others are carrying right now. In the 7am dark we went for a walk to get some small exercise and simulate the morning commute. We worked, not quite as normal, on the dining table: four screens and two laptops, keyboards, and mouses.

We established variants on the in-office rituals: R. starting a Zoom conference so that she and her colleagues could continue doing the newspaper quiz each morning; me and my workmates making a coffee and stepping outside into the sun for a FaceTime chat.

But then in early afternoon, it all changed again. The government made a new announcement: that we’d be going to level 3 for two days then level 4 from Wednesday at 11:59pm. Wherever you were on Wednesday night was where you were going to stay, in lockdown, for at least 28 days.

We hit the Air New Zealand website but we were too late to get B₂ on a flight back from Dunedin; they were all booked solid. She seemed ok with this and so did we seem to be. There was not a lot else R. and I could do in any case: it would not have been wise to send her to her grandparents on the farm an hour and a half away from Dunedin.

The next few days passed, busy with work and adjusting to this new normal. We would walk out before work, and again in the evening to end the working day: a 1.4km circuit where we would occasionally come across other people doing the same, and of course giving them all a 2m space (a lot easier now that the cars on the road had dwindled to almost nothing). The meme whereby people were to put teddy bears into their windows overlooking the street for the kids to spot seemed to be everywhere, and here and there Girl Guide troop members had chalked the pavements outside their homes with messages of support and encouragement.

B₂ and us decided that we weren’t that OK with being apart after all, but luckily for us on Wednesday the government announced an extension to the domestic travel rules allowing non-essential travel on internal flights, for people getting home, until Friday. We got B₂ on a very early direct flight from Dunedin, the better to avoid transiting a third airport and hopefully a quieter time. I bent the rules a little and went and picked her up; I felt that getting her in person, especially if she came to our car outside the terminal, was in total less risky both for us and the wider public than making her get a cab from the airport.

R. and I relaxed a little. The weekend rolled around, none too soon. Early school holidays started for R₂. With B₂ back our family was together again and she started doing some of her Uni work remotely. The weather packed up with the first vicious southerly of autumn and we had to put the fire on. We all helped build our remote island getaway.

On Sunday I went to the supermarket, which was a slightly weird experience. I picked one that had a large covered car park and sure enough, I could wait under cover from the rain, with 2m gaps between people in the queue marked with red tape. It was good to see the trolleys being cleaned between uses. I noticed that more people were starting to use masks and other protective gear; a very few were in N95 respirators and one cautious person was in surgical gear: hairnet, mask, goggles, and disposable outer overalls. I began to feel slightly under dressed; hopefully my new facemask will arrive in the coming week. (Yes, I know they are not considered essential by many authorities on the matter. But they also help prevent an infected person from spreading the virus, so from that point of view I don’t see them as useless.)

Overall this feels doable - at least for us in our lucky bubble. I don’t know if we will feel the same way after a month… but for now the pace of life has slowed dramatically in one sense while also becoming more anxious and frantic in another (limiting news intake is helpful here). The city is so quiet now and the traffic is gone; the birdsong seems more intense and when the sun shines, which earlier in the week it was almost continuously, we seem to have stumbled across great fortune.

We will need to hold onto this feeling in the days to come.

Gathadair @dubh
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