Allied Press reporters are essential workers, and they were out and about in the region on Thursday, day 2 of lockdown, doing what the newspaper delivery boys and girls could not – delivering community papers like The News to households, as Jared Morgan, Mary-Jo Tohill and Shannon Thomson report.
The muffled sound of a dog barking behind closed doors. A cat glaring accusingly through a gap in the net curtains. The loud clink of bottles conjuring up mammoth hangovers.
Even at 10.30am, the drapes in many homes remain firmly closed.
Perhaps that had something to do with the surly, sombre mood of the deserted streets and the few people who braved them, heads down, just needing to get where they were going.
This lockdown feels weird.
Maybe it is because we know what to do, what to expect. We have been here before.
Unlike its more benign cousin Alpha, we know quite a bit about the orc that could come over the hill to Middle Earth.
Its name is Delta.
But unlike Delta Dawn, it ain’t a faded rose from days gone by. It’s a virus with an ugly face. And one of the few defences is to cover our faces.
We saw that too, in all colours and shapes.
Older people especially.
The new norm when you’re trudging down to the shops to pick up the milk.
No doubt about it, despite what they’ve seen and experienced in their lives – depression, war and polio epidemics – lockdowns are hard on older people because of the unseennature of this foe, unable or unwilling to anaesthetise themselves with Netflix.
They were pleased to get their newspaper, a bit of normality, and a way to stay connected.
Taking some of the ice out their isolation. The sound of a DIY saw cuts the frigid air.
Someone taking advantage of the down-time to catch up on the jobs at home. The sound of hope breaking the sound of silence. Life carrying on, behind the garden fence – at least.
In Cromwell, the delivery of the paper was anything but normal – a missing delivery of the weekly news when once found was more than four times the expected number; bribing a reporters teenager to mask up and help with deliveries – well that may not be unusual – and scores of seemingly empty houses.
Back in June, the first warning shot crossed the bow.
A Sydney man, after spending the weekend in Wellington was confirmed as having the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
We dodged that bullet.
Miraculously, there were no cases of community transmission. But this time, we were not so lucky. A snap level-4 national lockdown is the result, and a prediction that the community outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland could swell to more than 100 cases.
What now? We are being warned by the Ministry of Health officials and epidemiologists that complacency is the enemy; South Islanders may have come in contact with the Covid-19 variant on their travels north.
Early on in the March to May 2020 lockdown, Central Otago learned it had three cases, one in Roxburgh, Cromwell and Alexandra.
Officially, 217 of New Zealand’s cases were recorded in Otago and Southland, and two of those people died from the disease.
But blood samples taken from 1214 southern people in the middle of last year after the last cases of community transmission, showed that nine of the probable cases, who had not tested Covid-19 positive, probably did have the virus.
If that was the case, it would have pushed up the Southern District Health Board region’s infection rate to an even greater number than the 66 cases per 100,000, which was already more than twice the national average of 30 per cases 100,000 people.
Southern health officials had always suspected that there were more Covid-19 cases in the region last year than reported, but had not spread into the community because they were contained in personal bubbles when we went into lockdown in March 2020.
Is the current situation a reminder of just how close we got to a community outbreak?
And how close we could get?
At the start of the June outbreak we spoke to Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan who was concerned about our level of complacency, that we were “living in a fool’s paradise” because we had got slack about the basics, such as using the tracer app.
On Thursday, he said this is what could save us, and wearing masks.
“I think everyone knew it was not “if” but “when” the delta variant got loose in New Zealand, and when just became now.
“By and large, I think the Sydney (the June outbreak) and now New South Wales experience has given most people the sense that this is a different, much more dangerous beast we are fighting than last time around and people are acting accordingly.
“We have also seen the huge benefits that we have gained as a nation through our elimination strategy, with a very strong economy and freedoms the rest of the world is very envious of.
“If we want that to continue, we have to do what is asked, including the new requirements for wearing masks and the request to do so any time we leave our homes.
“It’s crossing fingers and toes time now as we hope that the people working on tracking the spread can get on top of this outbreak.
If not, things are going to be very different moving forward.”
And how ready are we if this things go, well, south?
In September 2019, Central Otago District Council (CODC) launched Gets Ready, a proven two-way digital emergency alerts and community response system which helps people better prepare for emergencies and be more informed, coordinated and resilient when they occur, which emerged out of the Canterbury earthquakes.
It was offered to the wider district in February.
And eerily enough, there was a post on the CODC Facebook page a week before the lockdown was announced, to remind people to sign up to the Central Otago-Otago
Emergency Management initiative as part of Civil Defence.
To date, a total of 2775 households have signed up, reaching 8408 people.
In Central Otago there are 1390, Queenstown Lakes 909, Dunedin 301, Waitaki 63 and Clutha 110.
A critical aspect of responding to an emergency was being informed no matter where we live, whether that was the heart of Dunedin city or the back roads of the Teviot Valley, Queenstown-based emergency management officer Craig Gibson, said.
“During the COVID alert level change on the 17th of August we were able to reach out to 1390 homes throughout Central Otago and alerted 3863 people of the lockdown and the implications for Central Otago communities. That is a massive proportion of the Central Otago community that was informed with accurate and timely information. The work doesn’t stop there. The more people register with Otago Gets Ready the wider the knowledge base is therefore the better we can respond both as individuals and as a community.”