A friend of mine wishes she and her husband had been able to die together of Covid.
I think she's wrong. But then again, I don't know what it's like to be married for 56 years.
Early last year, my friend's husband was admitted to hospital. Just before the first big lockdown, they were told he probably had only a few weeks to live. When lockdown came, my friend was told she couldn't visit him again.
As well as the condition that killed him, which had nothing to do with Covid, he had mild dementia. To clear the hospital for the expected Covid surge, he was sent to another health facility for people in much worse mental shape than he was.
My friend was never allowed in, in case she had Covid.
For five weeks she lived alone, using her legally permissible exercise time to walk to the dementia facility and wave to her dying husband through a window. Nurses, cooks and cleaners came and went as essential workers. My friend wondered why next of kin weren't "essential" too.
When my friend sensed it was her husband's last day, she asked to come in to hold his hand. Despite being constantly told that she would be allowed in when the end was nigh, she was told no. She sent an email that was read to him by a nurse.
At 4am they called to say he had died. My friend was told she could come in and see his body. She was told she didn't need to wear a mask. Now he wasn't breathing, they didn't need to worry about Covid.
With both of them in their late 70s, and more than a half-century together, she thinks this was a risk-management question they were grown up enough to decide all on their own.
It was over a month before the funeral could be held, during which time my friend thought about suicide almost constantly.
She will never get over not being allowed to be with her husband when he died. She says she'll never understand how Jacinda Ardern can use the word "kindness" in good conscience.
Before we get too teary-eyed, let's toughen up a bit. It's not the worst story in the world. My friend's father was killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino so that was pretty rough on her mum. No policy maker should take individual cases into account in times of war, whether against Nazis or viruses.
But since this latest lockdown began, nearly 1000 people have died in New Zealand. We don't hear about them at the 1pm media briefings. But hundreds of families will have stories similar to my friend's. That cumulative suffering is a proper matter for consideration by policy makers.
At the other end of life, around 1500 women have given birth since this lockdown began.
Whether their partners or other supporters can be present is decided by whomever is on the shift at the time.
The cumulative distress that causes expectant mothers is also a proper matter for policy makers. So too any material increase in domestic violence, or the impact on the education, mental health and socialisation of teenagers trapped at home with their parents — and so on.
There is a nascent debate about what New Zealand should do if Covid remains globally endemic. Loons like William Desmond Te Kahika, 49, and rioters in New South Wales demand an immediate return to "normal".
A handful of better-educated loons argue that New Zealand should maintain the current elimination strategy whatever happens, here or overseas, and regardless of our eventual vaccination rate.
Some insist we should remain in a permanent Level 2. The All Blacks and Six60 should never again be allowed to sell out Eden Park or parents crowd around kids' netball courts. Mask wearing should be permanently compulsory, plus keeping a record of wherever we go. We should be legally required to tell the state everywhere we've been on demand.
The motivation is for zero tolerance of Covid to become permanent policy. Border restrictions would never be fully lifted and lockdowns would continue whenever Covid showed up.
Instead of subsidising the tourism sector by using hotels for MIQ, the state would commission its own permanent facilities. The House of Representatives should be able to be suspended based on the recommendation of the Director-General of Health.
At the very least, we should talk about all this, and more rationally and respectfully than the likes of Te Kahika and Ardern's fanatical Praetorian Guard on social media.
There are genuine choices to be made, even if zealots see Covid policy as black and white.
Liberal democracies may have struggled with Delta but China has shown it can be eliminated. With the current lockdown, we are hopefully on track to follow them.
The question is how long the necessary measures can be maintained without undermining things we value more than eliminating the risk of catching, being hospitalised, dying or suffering from long Covid.
Our permanent restrictions can't be tougher than other liberal democracies because of their emigration effects. Not just those in their 20s seeking overseas adventures and work opportunities would leave, but too many of everyone else. No one is yet suggesting exit visas.
The good news is that nobody in any position of power in New Zealand is arguing from these extremes, even if they portray their opponents as doing so.
Everybody who matters supports the current lockdown, and believes the elimination strategy must remain into early 2022. If another lockdown is needed before then, so be it.
Moreover, everyone — including, privately, the Beehive — understands that the vaccination stroll-out, the saliva-testing programme, the track-and-trace system and the ICU expansion have been inadequate. There is dismay that officials have not used the periods between lockdowns to do things like work out the definition of an essential worker or whether self-isolation with ankle bracelets could replace stays in MIQ.
Likewise, everyone in a position of power is pleased with how the vaccination programme is operating at the local level and that daily doses have passed 80,000. Ashley Bloomfield's ministry is finally working with multiple suppliers of different types of saliva-testing technology for different contexts.
For their part, Ardern's ministers are increasingly flying the kite — first launched a week before the current lockdown — of changing course in the new year once everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated. The Prime Minister herself emphasises that elimination remains the policy "for now". This formulation is encouraging.
The danger is always that "nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme". We should support the existence and application of the current emergency powers. But we should also maintain pressure on Ardern to relinquish them as soon as we have all had a chance to be double-jabbed.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant.
Suicide and depression - Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
Family violence - How to get help
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people. Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you. Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Crisis line - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 (available 24/7)
• Shine: Helpline - 0508 744 633 (available 24/7)
• It's Not Ok: Family violence information line - 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Specialist services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children. Crisis line - 0800 742 584 (available 24/7)
• Ministry of Justice: For information on family violence
• Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women
How to hide your visit:
If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you're worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you've been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit. Each of the websites above also has a section that outlines this process.