New Zealand senior Jill Nicholls counts herself luckier than many of her peers. She is mostly self-sufficient on her 3.5-acre small-holding on North Island.
Living close to the township of Kaiwaka, which aptly means food canoe in Te reo Māori, Jill says her daily life has not changed too much.
Apart, that is, from being unable to nip to the shops, visit family and friends, or volunteer at the small local library.
“Perhaps I am luckier than most older people in that I am mostly self-sufficient and the things I need help with are seldom urgent. Also, I had a hunch when I first heard about the Wuhan outbreak, and over the weeks I bought extra staples,” Jill comments.
“One thing that has changed is that I have run out of meat and do not enjoy supermarket offerings. So I have become semi-vegetarian, slaughtering an occasional rooster, of which there are plenty, when I feel up to it.”
Apart from her family, the people she misses most are her ‘regulars’ at the library, which, due to social distancing, leaves a significant gap in her life.
“I guess just knowing that I cannot take the dogs to the beach or the park bothers me,” Jill reflects. “I have a great-grandson almost one-year-old, and I miss being with him as, of course, those delightful developmental stages will never be repeated!”
Though she generally dismisses worrying as a waste of energy, Jill admits to being concerned for one of her sons who lives in Cambodia and cannot return home because of international travel restrictions.
“I gather the political situation there is not ideal. However, there is nothing I can do apart from supporting him remotely through this time,” Jill adds pragmatically.
Despite all the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jill believes she is coping well under the circumstances. Her youngest son lives over 50 miles away in Auckland, and they talk daily, supporting each other with “frank and honest assessments” of how they are coping.
With no end in sight for COVID-19 quarantine being lifted, the plucky pensioner does foresee some challenges soon with obtaining poultry food for her ducks and hens. With seniors being told not to leave home, she will in a week or two have to ask a neighbour to make the 37 mile round trip to the nearest town of Wellsford.
But that won’t be a problem in the small, close-knit community in which she lives. This rural part in the middle of North Island is pulling together. Local shops are doing home deliveries via email; and will even go to other shops to fulfil orders if there are items they do not have in stock. Her next-door neighbours, too, have been keen to help.
“My young neighbours have also shopped for me for things like replenishing the gas for water heating and cooking. We have had shouted conversations through the covenanted forest, keeping our distance! Friends keep in touch via phone, video calls and email. My youngest son lives in a high rise in the Auckland CBD and has no idea who his neighbours are and is more isolated than I,” laughs Jill.
Quarantine, then, has not been as significant a burden as it could have been. With two re-homed Swedish Vallhund dogs, varying numbers of bantams, hens, ducks and muscovies plus a barn cat to look after, Jill is never at a loose end. She devotes some free time to an online Permaculture Design Course she recently enrolled in and for which she has a final design project plan to write.
With apparent limitless supplies of energy and curiosity, this senior citizen is pondering what type of future lies ahead post-COVID-19.
“My hopes for the future are that enough ordinary people will see that the way we are using capitalism and our natural resources is wrong, we have to recognise that huge changes are necessary now otherwise humankind is doomed. I have to agree with Greta Thunberg. If your house is on fire you don’t sit down and talk about it, you get going and put out the fire!” says Jill.
She continues: “The fact that the COVID-19 virus has spread so rapidly and widely should speak volumes to us. I believe we are acting in an unrealistically entitled way toward the planet. We should be nurturing it, not plundering it.”
Sadly, the opportunity for change may dissolve into business as usual, Jill fears: “There are some comments from thinkers saying that the evidence of lowered pollution, fewer car accidents, lower insurance claims and fewer doctors visits should be a wake-up call for us, but I think that people don’t know what to DO to make the change.”
Certainly, if the COVID-19 behaviour of some Kiwis is any measure, Jill may well prove correct. Like the Highlands and Islands repelling would-be holiday-makers, precisely the same scenario is being played out in New Zealand.
“There has been some ill-feeling in coastal villages when city dwellers who own holiday homes, caravans or such moved north to spend lockdown having another holiday. It’s not so much their presence which caused problems, but the logistics of keeping our stores and petrol stations stocked and also the risk of introducing the virus locally,” she remarks.
“I believe there have been several arrests, and there will be court cases for persistent offenders. One offender has been sentenced to one month in prison.”
Even though a minority of thoughtless people are compromising the COVID-19 strategy, Jill is convinced that the close contacts of New Zealand’s 4.8 million population are a big help in fighting the pandemic. So, too, is New Zealand Prime Minister, who has been a substantial boost to national pride in Jill’s opinion.
“The Prime Minister’s daily ‘chat to the nation’ along with the General Director of Health, resonates with the vast majority of people. Her Facebook page has many requests from Australians and Americans for her to be their leader!” Jill notes.
Continuing her examination of the Kiwi psyche, Jill theorises that with New Zealand being so recently ‘a settler colony’, the heritage has been a ‘them and us’ mentality. The mindset being New Zealand versus the rest of the world, where New Zealand ultimately emerges in good shape.
“I can remember wartime rationing from the 1940s, and there is a similar feeling here now, I think. While we continue to pull together against a common enemy, we will be glad when it’s over,” says Jill.
At the time of writing, New Zealand had recorded 11 COVID-19 deaths. Almost all being over 65, with the majority of fatalities being in the dementia unit of a care facility for the elderly. At least three were in their nineties. Testing has uncovered about 1200 positive cases, all but one of these cases have been traced to returning overseas citizens or from an infected cruise ship. Eleven people are in hospital, with three in intensive care.