This week we asked Guardian New Zealand readers about the arrival of Omicron and how they are feeling and preparing. Hundreds of New Zealanders wrote in, about their hopes and anxieties, preparations and frustrations, confidence and worries.
The country has spent almost two years relatively sheltered from the pandemic’s worst effects, and many said they felt some trepidation at the prospect of widespread Covid, and the threat it could pose to the country’s small health system, as well as its immunocompromised or under-vaccinated communities. Some were concerned about divisions the pandemic had produced: between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, those inside the border and those locked out.
But many also expressed a sense of relief and inevitability – and a sense that the timing was as good as it may ever be for Aotearoa to fall back into step with the rest of the world. Some have been long separated from their families, and found consolation in the prospect of reopening borders. And many felt quietly confident, bolstered by the country’s results so far. New Zealand had weathered each stage of the pandemic before, they said, and they trusted both the government and fellow New Zealanders to meet the next challenge.
This is a small sampling of the comments.
NZ just hasn’t suffered the kind of personalised trauma happening overseas, and summer makes a lot of people shrug at the prospect of doom. The not knowing how it will play out is almost as bad as the anticipation of personal and societal harm; how vulnerable ARE we as a population? How will our mental health _ not great at the best of times – weather the compound stressors? … Crossing all the fingers at the moment.
Kelly, writer and photographer, Dunedin
I think we are all feeling a sense of trepidation and worry. Throughout the pandemic we have watched what has happened overseas whilst keeping the virus at bay for two years. Now we face the inevitable that Omicron is here and we can no longer keep Covid at bay. There is the worry for the health system, our communities, particularly those who are vulnerable or immunocompromised. You can’t help but think: I am going to get Covid now, will it be OK? Will my family be OK? Here in NZ, we just haven’t had to deal with huge case numbers and deaths, nor are we in the mindset of just accepting those numbers. And currently it feels like we are just waiting for it all to begin.
Saffron Dunlop, 46, Auckland, marketing
I want to stop being frightened and put the whole ghastly business behind me whilst, at the same time, observing reasonable restrictions to keep the vulnerable safe. Recently the reality of Omicron in the community has given me the impression that we will all get the virus at some stage, but vaccinations provide protection against severe infection. I am respecting the science, I have had my booster, now bring it on!
Mari Bennett, 73, north of Auckland
I am worried about Omicron, but accepting that the outbreak is coming. All my whānau have been vaccinated, and are – where eligible – boosted. I mask up with an N95, track my movements on the Covid app, cut out attending or holding larger events, and have gone or go virtual where I can … Just trying not to be a dick! Kia kaha, Aotearoa: he eke waka noa – we are all in the same canoe.
Sam Young, 59, Nelson lecturer
I think resignation mostly. We all knew Omicron would break through eventually. As an asthmatic, yes I feel a degree of trepidation, but I got the vaccination, and I’ve had the booster, and I’m pretty consistent with mask-wearing. So really, from now on it’s a case of suck it and see. I am profoundly grateful to not be sent back into lockdown though … At least with vaccination I can live a pretty normal life now.
Elizabeth Revel, 71, cardiac nurse
The government has done a fine job in keeping deaths to a mere 50 or so. They have generated great confidence. Omicron may be different in its transmissibility but New Zealanders will, I think, rise to the challenge … Our vaccine situation is amazingly good and that will help too. No sweat.
Dave Smith, 75, lawyer, Wellington
“I think that the silver lining of reaching this stage is the change it will bring to border settings. There are so many families affected by the border restrictions. I have a friend whose dad [overseas] … died last year – I sat with her while she watched his live-streamed funeral and had to grieve without her family. It probably doesn’t seem much in the scale of things, but I have a cousin’s wedding to go to in the UK in June and it’s really important to me that my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews can see us and our kids. That time when they’re little goes so fast.”
Fiona Macdonald, civil servant, Wellington
I can’t help feeling that New Zealand is about to be surprised in a very unpleasant way by the reality of Covid’s exponential spread … I’m very concerned. I feel New Zealand is about to experience – albeit maybe without the large numbers of deaths due to Omicron’s milder nature – what the rest of the world had in 2020. That is, huge disruption to supply chains, working life, and massive social anxiety.
Tom Hawkins, 32, maths and statistics teacher
This feels inevitable. We couldn’t keep Covid-19 out for ever. We know the drill. Masks, hand washing, physical distancing, using the Covid-19 app, and keeping up with the vaccine and booster. I feel prepared. I am hoping for the best. Hoping Omicron is mild. Hoping it increases our immunity. Hoping we all stay safe and healthy.
Nicki Frances, 53, science technical writer, Lower Hutt
I feel safe in the hands of such capable leadership, and a community that by and large understands the need for individual action to serve the greater societal good. 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 double vaxxed feel we are ready to face Omicron without a lockdown.
As for how I am coping with the red traffic light? Well, for the majority it’s really little different to how we’ve lived in non lockdown times … Doing my part to help the country basically involves missing a beer festival and not going to the cricket. We are so very fortunate here and send our aroha (love) to all people whose countries who have been less fortunate, and arguably less well led.
Dan Hanid, 46, Palmerston North