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How I see Covid-19 from a place that is Covid-19 free

Lucia Dore writes about her experience living in a largely Covid-19 free country. While the rest of the world suffers, she feels she is living in a “bubble”. The weather is also getting hotter.

The world is in a turmoil. Most people are waiting for the world to return to “normal”- that is, the way we did things pre-Covid-19. So many people have said this to me, or I’ve heard it on the T.V. news. But is the expectation to return to “normal” the correct way to think? Is “normal” even sustainable? And what is “normal”?

Now that two vaccines are in the final stages of development and have been proven to be 90 per cent effective (Pfizer and BioNtech) and 95 per cent effective (Moderna) against Covid-19, there is hope that life will return to “normal” soon. On the BBC on Monday 16, 2020, the co-founder of German company, BioNTech, Professor Ugar Sahin said that the “impact of a new Covid vaccine will kick in significantly over summer and life should be back to normal by next winter”.

About 43,000 people took part in the Pfizer tests and 30,000 in the Moderna ones.

BioNTech and co-developers Pfizer (which is New York based) have also said that they expect transmission between humans from their vaccine to be reduced by 50%, rather than 90%, and this will mean a “dramatic reduction of the pandemic spread”.

The impact of Covid-19 on Queenstown

Most of the world has been devastated because of Covid-19. I live near the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, nearer to the West – though I grew up at the very bottom, Bluff and Invercargill. Queenstown, which sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is wonderfully scenic and is reportedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has been devastated because of Covid-19, not because of any community transmission (no mask wearing here; I’ve never worn a mask) or death toll (of which there has been none) but because no international travellers can enter New Zealand- unless they want to quarantine for 14 days in a 4 or 5 star hotel, which they must pay for themselves (unless they are a returning Kiwi). In the past, international travellers have flocked to Queenstown for scenic walks, adventure sports, including bungee jumping, the region’s vineyards, historic mining towns, and, in the winter, skiing. No longer.

These quarantine facilities are as far removed from “quarantine camps” as you can get, even though Fox News’ Laura Ingraham dubbed them such, to the bafflement of New Zealanders. Contrary to popular belief, principally in the US, New Zealand is far from being a communist country- but like all civilized countries has universal healthcare. It also benefits from being geographically remote from other parts of the world and has a natural moat. People are tested for Covid-19 on entering the country which has, for the most part, kept Covid-19 out.

Most people– I say “most” because a few cases of Covid-19 have been detected in Auckland - go about their daily lives unhindered, mask less and without any rules or regulations to obey. Only this week has it become mandatory to wear a mask on public transport - although in most parts of the country there is very little. Sport stadiums can be filled to capacity. Not many countries can say that.

Even though the country is largely Covid-19 free, New Zealand’s economy has been severely impacted- though not as badly as the economies of Europe, the UK and the US. It is reliant on international trade and on international travel. Completing the OE, or Overseas Experience, is a rite of passage for most young people (I was one of them, once). Now they must find another way to fill those months when they would be overseas, experiencing different cultures.

How New Zealand will cope economically over coming months is unknown. The housing market was expected to have fallen off a cliff as demand wavered. It hasn’t. Instead, the housing market is as buoyant as it has ever been, particularly in Auckland and Queenstown, where the average home is priced at over NZ$1 million (GBP 500 million). Rents in Queenstown have not gone the same way, however.

The reason for escalating house prices? Many New Zealanders are returning home, often having spent 20 or 30 years living abroad, and people are now seeing a place in the country as offering a better lifestyle than the cities. People from other countries are moving here to, especially from the US, the UK and Europe, and they are willing pay for their own quarantine. Once 14 days in quarantine is over, they are largely free to do as they like.

With all that is happening overseas, I just sit and wonder if I am living in the same world as those in other countries. I have lived in a bubble for months and, despite the vaccines, it doesn’t seem likely that this will change. I just hope house prices do.

Photo: Queenstown, New Zealand.

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