75 years old
North King Country
27th August 2020.
To The University of Auckland Covid 19 Research Team,
I am delighted to see your interest in the thoughts of us seniors. So often we feel we are the forgotten demograph in our society.
I am a 74 year young retired dairy farmer and my observation of the approach to the covid processes is, to me, typical of the rural urban divide, or more concisely the rural metropolitan difference.
Firstly is that the whole covid pandemic setup has been devised in Metropolitan Wellington, by Metropolitan Wellington and for Metropolitan Wellington. Designed for the concentrated population places throughout New Zealand.
The rural heartland of New Zealand operates under separate and different sets of social and economic criteria. Our “bubble”, comprising my wife of fifty years and myself, is forty hectares and leased to our neighbour for his extension for milking acreage. Life carried on as normal inside the farm gate with occasional connection with the neighbour and his staff. Cows needed milking, crops needed to be harvested and livestock needed to be shifted. This is the inexorable march of the seasonal nature of agriculture and indeed life. The day to day requirements cannot be parked in warehouses or on shelves as can urban merchandise.
One factor that confounded us and bore witness to the disconnection of government policy from thereal world was the initial arbitrary closing of all food outlets other than supermarkets.( And it has happened again in Auckland this second time around.) It is folly to funnel people into single large collections like this. Life experiences tells us that such congregations increase the opportunity for the spread of any infection and more so with the known volatility of covid 19. Remember your own school years when the common cold or worse, a good bout of ‘flu, circulated through your peers. Fortunately the food supply problem was corrected somewhat after lobbying by the affected businesses. Remember, these businesses, under these circumstances, had their livelihoods at stake and were acutely aware that hygiene and social distancing was paramount to their economic survival. Very little thought and planning was put into the economic balance alongside the health and safety part of the overall equation. Now with the resurgence of covid and the current lockdown it appears that the planners have learnt nothing. We are seeing more of the same blueprint used during the initial lockdown.
I could advance a lot more observations but I will leave such thoughts for another time.
Meanwhile the important consideration is where I and my beloved wife fit into your research criteria. We are, as I have described, early seventies active retirees. The first annoyance was to see ourselves categorized as vulnerable, incapable and IQ deprived old simpletons as found in elderly rest homes. Far from it. Everyone else up to the age of sixty nine is a first class citizen. Why should we, on our seventieth birthday, so suddenly be re-categorised as age-discriminated castoffs. We are a capable, active and involved couple in our rural community as are most of our peers. And at our age we have considerable experiences of life which gives us a clear insight for comparisons, contrasts and analyses for drawing conclusions and making our own decisions. When we left our “bubble”, mainly to shop for supplies, we understood fully the implications and ramifications of the downstream consequences if we didn’t observe simple hygiene and the two meter separation in the company of others. And we made sure that we looked after our self preservation. The first two to three weeks of lock down felt like a holiday with restrictions. It was nice. No places to go, no people to see, no things to do and phone calls to deal with. There were also similarities with our lifestyle in the 1950’s. The slower pace of living, the absence of taken for granted amenities and the relative absence of traffic come to mind as a few examples. The first few days we blobbed and recharged the old batteries. Then we began to look at our rather large section and do a garden plan. Again, nice. Those jobs that had been put aside we could now work on and complete without interruption. Fill the garden rubbish trailer a number of times and take the rubbish up to the dump at the back of the farm. The bigger jobs were done with the chainsaw, farm trailer and front end loader. Done in our own time and at our own pace. And the weather was generally fine and warm. Lesser days would be spent indoors looking in and emptying cupboards, finding things we had forgotten, cataloguing photos and memories and discarding (some) things that we really didn’t need or had no real relevance any more. In between we would take the occasional walk, initially in our “bubble” then drive into town three k’s away and walk the stopbank and park paths.
By the end of the fourth week we were beginning to miss the social interaction with our peers and in particular with our extended families. We have three children and seven grandchildren. Two of the families live in Auckland and the third twenty k’s away in Pirongia. No chance of travel to Auckland. We saw Tracey and the two boys from Pirongia maybe once a week to check on us and bring supplies that we wanted but were not available in Otorohanga. Tough though when we couldn’t hug out daughter or cuddle the boys. Still, under the circumstances, that was life and we all understood that. Since the change to level one lock down our Auckland families have visited a couple of times but we haven’t been to Auckland since March.
Level one for us in the rural scene was back to life as usual. Back to our social circles, Lyceum club for Dianne and the MenzShed and the museum committee for me. And afternoons and evenings out with friends. Yeah! We have yet to go out for celebrations for our fiftieth wedding anniversary and both our birthdays which all happened during full lock down.
From the community observations life and business continued where it left off in March. Most of the businesses are directly or indirectly servicing the surrounding agricultural environment. Businesses servicing the home, garden and recreation are faring well also, benefitting from discretionary funding that couldn’t be spent on overseas travel. The one business that has withered is the local travel firm but the owner and her two staff have been absorbed into other staffing in our community. We look after each other here. That business is, from recall, about the only one that relied on tourism and travel for a living. Otherwise tradies in particular are flat out with two months of deferred work to catch up on.
So now we are back in lock down at level two. My feeling is that our community is not so accommodating this time around. There are some chinks appearing in Madam’s armour. The media is asking lots of questions and the government’s fear program has weakened considerably. And it is obvious to us by now that the government are still “making it up” as each day goes by. We may be old but we are not stupid! We have been around a long time and our comparison and contrast assessments brings the weaknesses and, in some cases, downright incompetence into a very focussed spotlight. To be cynical this being “kind” has its limits. Government leadership and direction is seriously wanting. It seems that few lessons have been learnt from the first lockdown. This time round there should have been robust systems and programmes in place. There should be clear transparent requirements at the border entries and in the managed isolation facilities. And the testing and contact tracing leaves much to be required. We are becoming annoyed with this extremely poor performance by people who should at this juncture know much better.
So where to from here? What are we as the aged demograph able to do about influencing political policies and developments into the future? That will depend on how many of these letters you receive and, more importantly, what you can do with this information in the wider community. Covid 19 is here to stay whether we like it or not. As a nation we cannot sustain continuing lock downs. We need proactive management systems to balance heath with economic stability. Our future cannot support the current human and financial squeezes being inflicted on the nation’s business world. Each subsequent squeeze creates the next level of social and community resentment. Woe betide any further lock down measures.