Don’t go outside for a bag of chips

CHURCH Street lies almost vacant at midday on Thursday. OS0308-08

AS a naturalised immigrant to this country, I am proud of the decisiveness the New Zealand government has shown during the Covid-19 crisis, as well as how the lock-down is respected in the Eastern Bay.
As of this afternoon, New Zealand has 708 confirmed cases and one reported death – in stark contrast to my native Sweden, which has 4334 confirmed cases and 146 deaths.
Despite this, all Sweden has done is prohibiting gatherings of more than 500 people and telling people to be “responsible” and recommending “social distancing” for those over 70.
There are no quarantines, borders are only partially closed and primary schools are open.
The Swedish approach has been criticised as a dangerous experiment with 10 million people. Bars, restaurants and stores are open.
Meanwhile, driving from Ohope to Opotiki just before 11am last Thursday — the first official day of the lockdown — I am struck by the peaceful feeling outside.
It’s as if the calm of those few hours of Christmas Day when everybody sits inside eating dinner together has landed permanently in our midst.
On the trip to Opotiki I spot: one police car, three pedestrians, three cyclists, nine cars, one courier van and one black van, five trucks and five utes.
Added to this are two white and covered utes each towing a largish flatbed trailer – they had stopped next to one another at the intersection of SH2 and Wainui Road, the drivers having a chat to one another while smiling incredulously.
Because it is like that, incredible.
Seagulls and other birds have taken control of the roads and it wouldn’t surprise me if they refuse to get out of the way soon – as an inter-species, political statement.
Coming out onto that huge, sweeping bend at Waiotahe, I think most motorists automatically scan the kilometres ahead to see if they can spot any vehicles.
Not one. Not a single car, truck or motorcycle. Not one.
By the way, the vehicles and people counted on my trip included traffic going both ways.
Calm reigned in Opotiki.
There was no aggro, hollering or discontent to be spotted anywhere – just a lot of closed shops, open spaces and a few people going about their business.
The few cars that were about were driving considerately, perhaps leisurely. There were a few massive tractors, a smattering of utes, some cars and another courier van.
“It’s as if I have been transported back to the 1960s,” I thought.
Adamant to observe extensive social distancing myself, I was pleased to spot police officers William Searle and Mark Simonsen coming out of the Opotiki New World just as I turned up.
I had been tasked with finding out if the supermarket had those protective plastic screens in front of the tellers – but now I didn’t have to go inside, I could just ask the cops.
“Yes, they have them – and they are enforcing the stipulated distances,” Mr Searle said.
People were generally following the rules and respecting the distances, even if there were some people that needed to adjust.
“You don’t go out just for a packet of chips,” Mr Searle said.
“Going shopping once a week would be good.”
Full marks to New Zealand and Opotiki for getting it right – from a grateful pakeha working on becoming whanau.