Barry Soper: Thank goodness for level 2 - but the damage has been done

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 May 2020, 9:54AM
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Barry Soper: Thank goodness for level 2 - but the damage has been done

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 12 May 2020, 9:54AM

COMMENT:

The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Prime Minister took to the Beehive pulpit and for once delivered some good news.

Jacinda Ardern wasn't giving too much away initially, delivering the now familiar message of how we have worked together as a team and protected each other for the past six weeks.

But she finally got to the declaration we had all been holding our breath for: We are moving out of Level 3, meaning we can resume a semi-normal life again.

What the Prime Minister was really saying is we can now be trusted to do what is right, keep our distance, wash our hands and not party too hard.

Some would say restoring trust was long overdue and, as grown-ups, most of us would of course have done what was right.

Business knows it's on notice to behave itself, to deal with customers in the way they've never been dealt with before, to keep them at arm's length.

Of course they'll behave. They like everyone else want to finally start making money again, to try to rekindle something from the ashes.

It'll be more than a week until we know whether and to what extent that's possible. A walk down Ponsonby Rd or Courtenay Place will confirm the survivors.

Flights will start operating again, but few people will be on them if there's nothing open at the other end.

The trick in all of this is to convince the public it's safe again.

New Zealand's become a nation living in fear of a virus that most of us will never be infected with.

If it wasn't for our efforts, the Prime Minister tells us, the number of dead would by now be in the thousands.

Of course we can never possibly know that, but we do know that the way our population lives in this country is nothing like the way they live in northern Italy, New York or Wuhan.

But so afraid are we of this virus that it's turned many of us from being well reasoned individuals into grumpy, intolerant narks.

We've been preached at for weeks now from the Beehive pulpit to treat everyone as though they have Covid-19, to keep our distance, to stay at home and to wash our hands.

But it's the confidence to go about our daily lives again which will be the challenge.

Consider what should be a pleasant walk and before you know it you are in step with a street monitor.

Many of us will have had the experience of being singled out and shouted at for not keeping our distance. Shouting in our case was required because the distance was so great.

An elderly, well-dressed man out for a walk with his wife must have been short-sighted because my bubble was obnoxiously accused of not keeping our distance as we walked past the couple.

So enraged was the man that he diminished the social distance to remonstrate about not wanting to catch our disease.

We may not have been as risk but we certainly were when he finished his hissy fit. His no-doubt long-suffering, sheepish wife simply stared at the pavement.

Imagine what going for a walk with him must be like.

The man was obviously scared and had, like many Kiwis, taken the word from the Beehive as gospel, to treat everyone as though they have got the ghastly virus. He clearly believed the message despite the fact we have just two people in hospital with it and a recovery rate of more than 90 per cent.

Psychologists will look back on and study this time in our history. How a nation can so successfully and completely be brought to heel is nothing short of phenomenal.

The damage done, by delayed healthcare and the myriad issues that encompasses, by the ruination of many businesses and the devastating, ongoing social ills that will create will take much longer to repair than the lockdown lasted.

The rebuild starts with Grant Robertson's Budget on Thursday, but this political magician will need more than a rabbit and a hat to get us back on track.