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Life in Lock Down: Day 1

27 March 2020 33 comments

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Lock Down: Day 1 – A photo essay with observations

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Day one of the Level 4 nationwide lock-down (or, DefCon 4 as I sometimes cheekily call it) started at 11.59PM on 25 March. For a moment, most of the nation held it’s collective breath. In that brief moment, as the countdown moved to one minute to midnight, everything changed.

Those of us not doing a graveyard shift went to bed knowing that tomorrow morning we would be waking up into a changed world.

We were not to be disappointed.

Just after 9AM, I left the house. Carrying my packed lunch; my work satchel containing – amongst other things – a letter from my employer identifying my role in the health sector; and most important, my third coffee for the day. Jump into the car and crawl out of the driveway. Driving past the normally packed Park & Ride carpark, there is only one car sitting alone in a large barren expanse of bitumen.

On the motorway, the traffic was almost non-existent. At any moment there were no more than three or four cars travelling either in my direction or on-coming.

Most jarring was the neanderthal moron who – on a near-deserted highway – decided to tailgate me for several kilometres. Note to the driver of silver Toyota Van ELJ368, the cloth/paper facemask you wore whilst driving a few metres behind me at 100ks won’t help you much if I suddenly have to brake. Dick.

Despite the supposed order to stay at home, two bicycle riders along SH2 and a lone middle aged male walking along the harbour-side of the motorway, obviously decided that the global emergency did not apply to them. It was an indication of things to come, unfortunately.

The entire trip took half the time it normally did. The Terrace Tunnel was empty bar a couple of on-coming vehicles.

And then, Wellington City. Unnervingly near empty streets. I was thankful for the few cars and pedestrians who were present. Total emptiness would have been too much and I would lost it.

Victoria Street, looking north;

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Looking south,

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Cuba Street, looking north,

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Vivian Street, looking back towards the Terrace Tunnel,

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Taranaki Street, looking north,

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Looking south,

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New World in Miramar – embarrassingly plentiful carparking,

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Even more deserted at Kilbirnie Pak N Save – and nary a toilet paper hoarder in sight,

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Likewise Countdown in Kilbirnie. Singing, “Where have all the shoppers gone, long since bought up large…”

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Who’s feeling silly now, I wonder?

Onepu Road, looking south,

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Looking north, toward Wellington CBD,

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Newtown, Constable Street, looking east toward the airport,

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Adelaide Road, looking north toward Wellington CBD,

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Looking south, toward the Zoo,

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These guys got the memo on social distancing,

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Another jogger who thought lock-down obviously translated to “time-for-a-run-because-this-shit-don’t-apply-to-me”,

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Adelaide Road toward the Basin Reserve,

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Kent and Cambridge Terraces, looking north,

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At around 10.30AM it suddenly dawned on me…

I had seen joggers, bicyclists, a couple of skateboarders and random individuals and couples out and about. There were a few cars, vans, and even a couple of camper vans (who were on the move to carry on their holidays? More on that shortly.)

But no police.

Not a single police constable or vehicle until the first policecar was seen turning a corner into Cambridge Terrace.

Courtney Place, looking east,

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And west,

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Despite the above two images showing an apparently deserted street, there were people strolling along. “Stay at home”? Not likely.  And for the most part, when passing each other, the two metre distancing rule was not followed.

Lambton Quay, looking south. The “Golden Mile” is normally jam-packed with traffic, buses, office workers, and consumer-citizens on their holy mission to Shop. Today, it was a scene from ‘The Quiet Earth‘ with only Bruno Lawrence in his white negligee missing-in-action,

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Looking north, a lone bus was on a forlorn search for passengers,

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As I took the above image, there was something else I began to notice. Parked on either side of the road; cars.

And in the side streets from Lambton Quay,

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Why so many cars?

I hoped that they were from inner city apartment dwellers – and not office workers sneakily coming in to work, ignoring the lock down. If people are sneak-working, their unmitigated selfishness is endangering the entire country, economy, and other workers’ jobs.

And then there were these two muppets in their campervans. All campers/travellers have been ordered to stay put. But obviously the entire country can go get f****d, because by Thor these self-entitled morons were determined not to let a global pandemic and the deaths of thousands of people interfere with their jolly nice time in Aotearoa.

If either one of these camper vans contained a person with covid19, they will be spreading the disease along their travels. Every place they stop, they could potentially spread infection,

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Or maybe they have immunity to covid19? I want me some of that!

Just before mid-day, I park up on another near-deserted street in Johnsonville. Lunch is pre-made; left-over cold pork slices on Roggenbrot Rye, with picked figs from my tree. No coffee… I stare at my empty coffee cup longingly. I think Churchillian thoughts of self-sacrifice…

I stay in my car; a cocoon of steel and glass, (hopefully) impenetrable to the virus. Unless the virus has mutated to penetrate through glass and metal, I’m safe. I listen to RNZ; a story of a widow who will be spared the ugly spectacle of the trial of the Christchurch terrorist (whose name shall not be mentioned). Grim… and still hard to comprehend that one demented individual could destroy so many lives.

And still no cops to be seen.

Until – Johnsonville. I see a police vehicle slowly crawl into the Mall carpark and park. Three constables alight and disappear into a nearby store,

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They enter a shop that was open to the public. Snatches of conversation indicate they were questioning the store owner. The store owner could be heard explaining that MPI had given them permission to open,

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The store is a ‘specialist’ retailer stocking imported grocery items (store name deleted to deter possible harassment). It does have a considerable range of goods (far wider than The Warehouse, for sure!) and probably constitutes a ‘superette’ not dissimilar to a ‘Four Square‘. The sign at the entry stipulates one customer to enter at any given time,

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Tough call. The police seem satisfied and leave. Some cynics may question if police have “nothing better to do than harass law-abiding shop-keepers”.

Screw that.

We are living in perilous times and if we don’t all act in unison, then we – as a thinking, rational (*cough*) species – will be defeated by a microsopic mindless organism that isn’t even aware of itself or us. The more some people “piss” around, the longer this goes on.

After the shenanigans from The Warehouse, and other businesses “trying it on”, the role of the Police will be vital to prevent the lock-down turning into a massive, leaking sieve. Otherwise, this;

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Few people I saw out and about could have reasonable excuses. Certainly not grocery shopping. (The lack of groceries; grocery bags, or a near-by supermarket kinda gave it away.)

Those who were out jogging, biking, strolling casually through the streets of Wellington were indulging their whims at the expense of others. The longer some people treat this lock-down as a holiday for recreational activities, the longer the virus circulates through the country and the longer the state of emergency will last.

What do we need to drive this home? Dead bodies? No problem; the virus will eventually oblige us.

And throughout all this, police presence was minimal. During my drive from the Hutt Valley to a client in Miramar and then to Johnsonville, I spotted one police vehicle turning into Kent Terrace; one Police “paddy-wagon” turning from Harris Street in to Jervois Quay at about 11AM; a parked (empty) police car near the Police National HQ, and finally the police action in Johnsonville.

If this lock down is not to collapse into a dangerous farce, with foolish people treating it like an impromptu holiday, the Police need to “up their game”. Their presence must be felt if they are serious in deterring flouters of the lock-down. Jobs, our economy, and lives are riding on this.

The public are the ones meant to be on “lock-down”, not the New Zealand Police.

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“You can go for a walk or a bike ride around your neighbourhood to get some exercise. You can go out to get essentials like food. But stay away from other people. No stopping to chat – even if you are two metres away from each other. Just give a wave and keep moving. Because the virus can live on surfaces for up to three days, don’t take your kids to the playground. Stay at home.” –  Siouxsie Wiles, 26 March 2020

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Note: The author works in the wider Health sector and is part of an essential service; with specific clients to attend to. During the weekend, the author will be on lock down at home.

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References

Democracy Now: Madrid’s Ice Rink Turned to Morgue as Spain Exceeds China in Coronavirus Deaths

RNZ: Widow -“I am relieved we won’t have to sit through a trial”

The Spinoff:  Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris – You’re waking up in lockdown New Zealand. Here’s how it works

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

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Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost was also published on The Daily Blog on 28 March 2020.

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The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

27 March 2020 1 comment

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24 March 2020

9.46AM

Number of covid19 cases in Aotearoa New Zealand: 102

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As of 11.59 on Thursday, most of New Zealand will go into “lock down”. People will be expected not to travel to work; not to socialise; and to stay home.

I will not be one of those people.

I work in a health-related industry and as such, have the questionable privilege of staying at work; helping those who rely on me; and not “hunkering down” with the majority of my fellow New Zealanders in the (relative) safety of their homes.

Which is ok. As I told one of my colleagues when our Prime Minister informed the country we were heading for DefCon 3, and later, DefCon4; “Now we really start to earn our pay...”

For most of Monday, we were busy contacting our clients; liaising with family members; and awaiting instructions. Much of what we accomplished we did using common sense; initiative; and a bit of slow, measured panic.

Our clients will be safe. They will be in lock-down. My colleagues and I have their backs.

As for our own vulnerability to this creeping, invisible, global horror… We don’t think about that. Best not to.

Until…

This morning, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed  for the latest info on covid-19, I came across something which not only shocked me deeply – but which left me exasperated and utterly disgusted. This;

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An unattributed statement to the NZX said;

“At this stage, it is more important than ever that we live up to our purpose of helping Kiwis live better every day by making sure that we show up for our communities in the way that they need.

In the past two weeks the group has seen unprecedented demand for essential items across all our brands. Goods sold included essential items to prepare themselves for the mandatory isolation period of at least four weeks.”

Pejman Okhovat, CEO  of The Warehouse said in a statement on 24 March;

“We’re encouraged by the Government’s continued efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. Today we wanted to let you know that The Warehouse stores and online site will remain open, with modifications, to ensure that you can continue to get the essentials and supplies you need. 

We have always been there for our customers and communities when needed, and our team is doing everything possible to make sure that continues. This includes continuing to provide essential products such as groceries, toiletries, winter essentials, blankets, clothing, stationery for home schooling and work from home needs. Our online stores will also continue operating to provide those at home and essential businesses with contactless delivery.

We are very proud of our team and the way they have cared for customers, themselves, and their families during this time. Our team members will continue to do everything possible to help keep The Warehouse stores safe for everyone. These modifications will include more frequent and thorough sanitisation of our stores, and strict personal hygiene guidelines being followed by all.”

He added,

“Our stores are open, with modifications

You will be able to get the essentials and supplies you need from your local The Warehouse store, whether you’re coming into the store or completing a Click & Collect order. We are practicing social distancing, and will be limiting the numbers of people in store.

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We are looking after our team members

We are protecting our team members with increased health and safety requirements. Our commitment to ensuring nobody misses out goes beyond being adequately stocked for customers. We value our team members and we have introduced a new COVID-19 care package for our team members, including the ability to apply for additional paid discretionary leave.”

It was mostly rubbish. Very little of Mr Okhovat’s claims of “social distancing, limiting the numbers of people in store“, “strict personal hygiene guidelines“, “modifications“, etc, were true.

How do I know this?

Because I went and looked.

This morning (24 March), I visited “Red Sheds” at Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Petone, and Tory St. What I saw disturbed me profoundly and demonstrated the emptiness of the Chief Executive’s assurance.

In Upper Hutt…

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There was uncontrolled entry to the store;

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There were signs referring to two-metred tapes on the floor. But how well they stood out with all the other, similar-coloured signage, is questionable;

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The tapes on the floor, by themselves, meant nothing;

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Aside from which, customers in the narrow aisles – which are not two metres wide – meant they were practically rubbing elbows when they passed each other;

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The Lower Hutt Warehouse. Again, uncontrolled entry. Can you spot the covid-19 sign?

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The covid-19 sign, to the right of the entryway;

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The much larger Bag Search sign, on the left;

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The self-checkouts were not two metres apart. Nor was there evidence of “frequent and thorough sanitisation” promised by the CEO. Customers were using the checkouts one after another;

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Meanwhile, another retailer in the Westgate Mall, was doing things much differently. Entry was controlled; staff were wearing masks; ‘social’ distancing requested;

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At the Petone Warehouse, entry was controlled;

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But those queuing in line were hardly two metres apart;

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Unfortunately, the staffer at the door (pictured above) was more concerned with me recording the event than the futility of  people queuing in line in close proximity to each other.

At Tory Street, in downtown Wellington, Warehouse staffers were controlling entry but the queuing customers were yet again in close proximity to one another;

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And inside, at all checkouts, there was no evidence of queuing customers standing two metres apart;

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Whatever “assurances” Warehouse executives were issuing to the public were in stark contrast to the reality. Safety precautions were non-existent or inconsistent. The layout of the stores have not been modified. Aisles were still narrow, forcing customers to close proximity to each other.

Their was no evidence of any form of sanitisation taken place.

In effect, for The Warehouse it was business-as-usual.

It is concerning the The Warehouse believes itself to be an “essential service”. It is not. It’s grocery line is a side-line to its product lines and would  run out of stock faster than supermarkets. Aside from which, its food line is limited to little more than what a superette might provide.

It is clear that the company is “trying it on”. At a time when a disaster is threatening the entire country, a bunch of executives thought it would be a clever idea to capitalise on and exploit people’s fears.  As First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson put it;

“If The Warehouse is [able to] open then, by rights, Briscoes almost certainly should be open, and if Briscoes is open, where does that place the likes of Mitre 10 Mega and Bunnings who are also very strong [sellers] of resilience products. This creates an unfair playing field for other businesses who are all trying to do the right thing”

Damn right it does. Imagine if all other stores closed, with only  The Warehouse remaining open? That would not just constitute market dominance, but a near 100% monopoly.

Briscoe’s managing director Rod Duke probably summed it up best;

“We were not given any indication by anyone that if we chose to sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper we’d be allowed to open… and at the end of the day I think I’m a bit more interested in the safety and wellbeing of my staff rather than a few sales of toilet rolls.”

Not only would that create a monopoly position, but the nationwide lock-down would end up leaking like a sieve.

You have to wonder if New Zealanders are so barking shopping-mad that they would endanger themselves and others to pursue their recreational retail activties?

It is beyond belief that so many people thought this could possibly be a good idea. Having supermarkets open is enough of a risk without adding another retail chain to the mix.

In fact, why have a lock down at all?

Why should my clients have to lock down?

Why should I care about my job to help others, facing a virus that – because of my own diabetes and age group – puts me in the vulnerable group?

All so a bunch of self-entitled company executives can make a lucrative profit and a bunch of shopping-nuts can pretend the current pandemic doesn’t exist?!

As for the notion that The Warehouse will be providing winter goods to families in need – oh please spare me the hypocrisy. They are not providing something for nothing. They are selling goods.

The number of times families in need are used as an excuse by unscrupulous business interests has become a sick cliche.

Unsurprisingly, The Warehouse’s shares rose 42% at one stage today. How cynical can a corporate entity be, to be trading on a disaster to maximise their value?

If New Zealanders want to thumb their noses at the worst pandemic since the 1918 influenza, so be it.

They can climb over the corpses of their countrymen and women to stand in line to go shopping. Hopefully all those people who thought this was a good idea will be the first to go. (Gives whole new meaning to the old phrase, “Shop till you drop!”)

In the meantime, I will carry on with my duties. I have little choice in the matter. In the following four weeks, my movements will be restricted to working with my clients and the risk of doing their supermarket purchases for them. I have to go out and hope no one coughs or sneezes at me. Or I forget not to touch my face, just once. Or I miss a spot when washing my hands.

It’s the same with my colleagues, and others in the health sector, police, etc.

If the Warehouse went ahead with its lunatic idea, my job would be that much harder. The risk that the disease spreads further, engulfing me and other healthcare workers would escalate. In fact, it would be inevitable.

Did I mention that because my partner works elsewhere, and we live apart, I won’t be seeing her for four weeks? But as long as The Warehouse can make a ‘killing’ with its profits… Well, that’s disaster capitalism working as it should, I guess.

I wonder if The Warehouse Group senior executives will be self-isolating whilst their staff are at risk of infection. “Take one for the Team”, eh?

Good on ya, Warehouse.  You just managed to make Simon Bridges look good.

 

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24 March 2020

2:41PM

Number of covid19 cases in Aotearoa New Zealand: 155

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Postscript1:

This afternoon (24 March), I put the following questions to the media team at The Warehouse;

I understand that The Warehouse intends to keep its outlets open for the duration of the Level 4 lock down, as you consider yourselves an “essential service”?

Please advise how you intend to address the following;

1. Social distancing in the aisles of Warehouse outlets, most of which are far less than 2 metres width?

2. Social distancing in queues outside main doors, where people tend to clump together?

3. Keeping products clean after customers have picked up and touched them? The covid19 virus is estimated to live for 2 to 3 days on varying surfaces. How will this be addressed?

4. Will The Warehouse sell only essential goods (grocery items) or will customers be able to shop for any products they wish?

At the time of publication, I have received no response.

Postscript2:

The government has rejected The Warehouse’s plans.

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References

Beehive: New Zealand moves to COVID-19 Alert Level 3, then Level 4 in 48 hours

NZ Herald: Covid-19 coronavirus – The Warehouse says it will remain open during lockdown

The Warehouse: An update from us on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

NZ Herald: Covid-19 coronavirus – Warehouse claims inaccurate, MBIE says

RNZ: Coronavirus lockdown – Is the Warehouse an essential service?

RNZ: Four cases of community transmission of Covid-19 in NZ

NewstalkZB: Coronavirus lockdown – Warehouse, liquor stores to close

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 March 2020.

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