I spent more time scouring social media last year, like most Brits, than I care to admit.
But I also saw pictures of packed house parties, family barbecues, and road trips to the beaches and shores in between the subdued festive lockout celebrations.
My social feeds are broken down into alternate worlds.
Because even though I’m a British citizen living in Oxford, I’m also a New Zealand resident, where things couldn’t be more different. I am used to witnessing events and political changes in both locations simultaneously as a citizen of two continents, with friends and family in both. This experience is typically a rewarding one, where fresh thoughts and cultural differences converge in my brain and broaden the way I see the world.
Yet it was an exercise of frustration in 2020. One of the defining characteristics of my last year was the misery of seeing one country handle the covid pandemic so well while living in another which handled it so poorly. Early in the crisis, the distinction in approach was clear.
On March 23, when Jacinda Ardern declared a lockdown, she took a hard line, telling the nation that “simply unacceptable” was the worst-case scenario of thousands of deaths and that her government “would not take that risk.”
It was a sharp contrast to Boris Johnson, who had declared 10 days earlier in a filmed televised speech that “many more families will lose loved ones before their time. ” Ardern announces New Zealand covid vaccine agreement as economic reboundsRead moreThey were true to their word by both prime ministers.
While the virus is spread locally in New Zealand, the swift intervention of Ardern’s government to close the borders has resulted in just 25 people dying to date from Covid-19.
Compare that to the United Kingdom, where hospitalizations are now higher than in the first wave peak, and deaths are skyrocketing again. An eradication policy has never been challenged, and the number of deaths – more than 75,000 so far – is inexcusable. And yet we Brits are making excuses.
It’s as if I’m purposely dismantling the idea of British exceptionalism every time I bring up the analogy. The response is: it was only made by New Zealand because it is remote, it’s small, it’s empty.
But the only nation that has managed to keep the virus at bay is far from that. Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand – all countries with bigger, denser populations – have also suppressed it.The subtext is that Britain could not have prevented this situation. On this point, even some of those who generally criticise the Tories’ handling of the pandemic are unusually silent. The government does the best that it can.
But I know for myself, living between the two nations, that their best is not good enough, that it’s not good enough. Although the British can hardly believe that people go to Auckland concerts, I wake up to their Instagram stories.
And there are several more in each of Johnson’s press conferences, in which he struggles to adequately express anything between his nationalist bombast and his parochial turns of phrase, in which Ardern sums up the situation for the country firmly and simply. As Johnson dithered over whether to keep schools open, Britain looked bleaker than ever. Now that we have ordered a third closure, we are a little better off than we were in March.
And winter made it even more complicated.
It’s particularly irritating to be in sub-zero temperatures queuing outside a store, or going for a jog in the rain because the gyms have been closed again.
At this moment, whether it’s a good day or not, I would give anything to have a healthy slice of normalcy in Wellington. It’s plain to me that these alternate worlds are not just dumb luck or geographical luck. They are the product of multiple choices in strategy. The virus came to the shores of Kiwi the same way it traveled across the globe.
And among returning New Zealanders who go directly into isolation, it tends to do so occasionally.
Six cases of the new highly contagious variant have already been picked up on arrival from the U.K. in controlled isolation facilities. The big difference here, unlike in the UK, is that nothing is left to chance.
Ardern traced a line in red. Her administration had been resolute.