A Capital Letter: Summer in the Covid-19 pandemic


A few days before Christmas I found myself on the phone to Healthline at midnight confirming I needed a Covid-19 test. It was the icing on the cake of a memorably crappy year.

New Zealand is in the midst of its first Covid-19 summer.

Mine has included a Covid-19 test, my only flight in an entire year, the feeling of absolute exhaustion, working remotely, and a holiday that almost didn’t seem real.

I spent my first three days of annual leave housebound in Napier after getting tested for the virus. While driving up from Wellington I had developed a dry cough but no other symptoms.

It was the second Covid-19 test I’ve had and the feeling of awaiting the results is a strange one.

Both of my tests have occurred during periods where there has been no community transmission in New Zealand.

On the one hand, I’ve found that reassuring as it would be highly unlikely I actually had the virus.

But on the other, there’s a feeling of dread that if my results came back positive, my case could trigger an alert level change and “stop summer” while authorities worked out how I had contracted Covid-19.

The testing regime was effortless this time around. There was no line at the testing station in Napier as I had a very specific allocated time.

When I drove through I was swiftly swabbed once up the nose and that was it.

Although I was confined to the house until Christmas Eve when I got my negative result back, not being able to do much was actually exactly what I needed.

I finished reading Where The Crawdads Sing and watched the remaining two episodes of the new TV series about the Bain family murders, Black Hands.

I also caught up on a lot of sleep. Never in my life have I felt as tired as I did in December.

It got to the point where I thought something might be seriously wrong with me.

But as I disclosed this feeling to friends and colleagues it quickly became clear that many people felt the same way.

I read a piece by my colleague Aaron Dahmen about being separated from his mum this Christmas.

He wrote that New Zealand’s Covid-19 response has been honed to an art-form, that over and over again officials have told us the system is working.

“But we have to remember that we are human too. We are not a system. Humans are irrational. Humans are emotional. Humans survive on connection,” he said.

It made me think that just because we are enjoying the freedoms of a system that’s working doesn’t mean the journey has been mentally easy for anyone.

After Christmas I boarded by first flight of the year to Auckland.

It was a strange sensation after I had planned to catch many flights in a month-long trip around Europe that I eventually cancelled earlier this year when it became clear Covid-19 was a global pandemic.

The actual flight itself was just the same as any domestic flight I had previously been on apart from everyone having to wear face coverings.

Tea, coffee, mineral water, and a biscuit were all still served.

I made my way to Kawau Island, which I embarrassingly told an Auckland hospitality worker was in the Hauraki Gulf when he enquired about its location.

I obviously need to get out of Wellington more often. I now understand islands in the immediate vicinity of Auckland are all in fact in the Hauraki Gulf.

Sitting with my friends in our island accommodation overlooking the ocean with a glass of wine in hand, I felt like I was on a holiday that wasn’t my own.

It was luxury in a year of madness and the stark contrast between the two was what made it not seem real.

As we nibbled on cheese and crackers and went for lovely swims, we were also reading about a new variant of Covid-19 that was wreaking havoc in the UK.

I returned to Napier with the holiday blues and a feeling of uneasiness that this variant had reached our shores, although confined to managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

My boss agreed that I could work remotely in Napier to see out the few days of work I had in between my two planned holidays this summer.

I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, a job and the ability to take a holiday.

The flexibility and normalisation of working away from the office is one of the good things, I think, to come out of Covid-19.

It means I can spend an entire month away from my life in Wellington and I’m immensely grateful for such a solid change of scene after this year.

The weather is also undoubtedly better in Hawke’s Bay making after work swims at the beach a reality rather than a distant dream.

So my Covid-19 summer has become a very Wellington one. I won’t be back until after anniversary weekend.

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