JThis week we asked Guardian New Zealand readers about Omicron’s arrival and how they are feeling and preparing. Hundreds of New Zealanders wrote about their hopes and anxieties, their preparations and their frustrations, their confidence and their worries.
The country has spent nearly two years relatively immune to the worst effects of the pandemic, and many have said they feel some apprehension at the prospect of a spread of Covid, and the threat it could pose to the country’s small healthcare system, as well as for its immunocompromised or vaccinated sub-communities. Some were concerned about the divisions the pandemic had produced: between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, those inside the border and those in lockdown.
But many also expressed a sense of relief and inevitability – and a sense that now was as good a time as it will ever be for Aotearoa to get back in step with the rest of the world. Some have long been separated from their families and have found comfort in the prospect of reopening borders. And many felt quietly confident, buoyed by the country’s results so far. New Zealand had already weathered every stage of the pandemic, they said, and they trusted the government and fellow New Zealanders to meet the next challenge.
This is a small sample of comments.
“Not knowing how it’s going to turn out is almost as bad”
New Zealand simply hasn’t suffered the kind of personalized trauma that happens overseas, and the summer has many people shrugging their shoulders at the prospect of disaster. Not knowing how it will play out is almost as bad as anticipating personal and societal harm; How vulnerable are we as a population? How will our mental health _ not great at the best of times – withstand compound stressors? … Let’s all cross our fingers right now.
Kelly, writer and photographer, Dunedin
“We have not had to deal with a huge number of cases and deaths”
I think we all feel a sense of apprehension and concern. Throughout the pandemic, we have observed what has happened overseas while keeping the virus at bay for two years. Now we face the inevitable that Omicron is here and we can no longer hold Covid at bay. There is concern for the health system, our communities, especially those who are vulnerable or immunocompromised. You can’t help but think: I’m going to get Covid now, will it be okay? Will my family be okay? Here in New Zealand, we simply haven’t had to deal with huge numbers of cases and deaths, nor are we in the frame of mind to just accept those numbers. And currently, we have the impression of waiting for everything to begin.
Safran Dunlop, 46, Auckland, Marketing
‘Bring it on’
I want to stop being scared and put this whole horrible thing behind me while respecting reasonable restrictions to keep vulnerable people safe. Recently, the reality of Omicron in the community gave me the impression that we will all catch the virus at some point, but vaccinations provide protection against serious infections. I respect science, I got my booster, now go!
Mari Bennett, 73, north of Auckland
Kia Kaha, Aotearoa – Hold on, New Zealand
I’m worried about Omicron, but I accept that the epidemic is coming. All my whānau have been vaccinated and are – when eligible – boosted. I mask up with an N95, track my movements on the Covid app, delete attending or holding larger events, and have gone or been virtual where I can…I just try not to be a jerk! Kia kaha, Aotearoa: he eke waka noa – we are all in the same canoe.
Sam Young, 59, speaker Nelson
‘Suck it and you’ll see’
I especially think of the resignation. We all knew Omicron would break through eventually. As an asthmatic, yes, I feel a degree of apprehension, but I’ve been vaccinated, and had the booster, and I’m pretty consistent with wearing the mask. So really, from now on, it’s all about sucking it and seeing. I’m deeply grateful that I’m not being sent back to lockdown though… At least with the vaccination I can live a pretty normal life now.
Elizabeth Revel, 71, cardiac nurse
“I think New Zealanders will rise to the challenge”
The government has done a good job of limiting the number of deaths to around 50. They generated great confidence. Omicron may be different in its transmissibility but New Zealanders will I think rise to the challenge… Our vaccination situation is incredibly good and that will help too. No sweating.
Dave Smith, 75, lawyer, Wellington
“The silver lining is the border settings”
“I think the bright side of reaching this milestone is the change it will bring to the border settings. There are so many families affected by the border restrictions. I have a friend whose father [overseas] … passed away last year – I sat with her as she watched her funeral live and had to grieve without her family. It probably doesn’t seem like much in the scale of things, but I have a cousin’s wedding in the UK in June and it’s really important to me that my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews can see us and our children. That time when they are little passes so quickly.
Fiona Macdonald, civil servant, Wellington
“New Zealand is about to experience what the rest of the world had in 2020”
I can’t help but think that New Zealand is about to be very unpleasantly surprised by the reality of the exponential spread of Covid…I am very worried. I feel like New Zealand is about to experience – but perhaps without the large number of deaths from Omicron’s milder nature – what the rest of the world has experienced in 2020. C that is, huge disruption to supply chains, working life and massive social anxiety.
Tom Hawkins, 32, professor of mathematics and statistics
‘Hope for the best’
It seems inevitable. We couldn’t keep Covid-19 forever. We know the drill. Masks, hand washing, physical distancing, use of the Covid-19 app and vaccine and booster tracking. I feel prepared. I hope for the best. Hoping Omicron is gentle. Hoping it increases our immunity. Hoping we all stay safe and healthy.
Nicki Frances, 53, Scientific Technical Writer, Lower Hutt
“We are ready to face Omicron without containment”
I feel safe in the hands of such capable leadership and a community that as a whole understands the need for individual action to serve the greater good of society. Kiwis are, despite a tiny but vocal proportion…extremely proud of how we defeated Covid with lockdown, then defeated Delta with lockdown, and now with 94% of adults doubly vaxxed, we are ready to take on Omicron without lockdown .
As for how I deal with the red light? Well, for the majority, it’s really little different from how we’ve lived outside of lockdowns… Doing my part to help the country basically involves missing a beer festival and not going to cricket. We are so lucky here and send our aroha (love) to all the people whose countries have been less fortunate, and arguably less well run.
Dan Hanid, 46, Palmerston North