"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" bellowed Al Pacino as The Godfather in 1990. I was thinking about that line Tuesday night, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the first cases of Covid-19 community transmission after 102 days without any.
A familiar sense of dread started draping my head like a wet blanket. The virus is like the mafia - even if you can't see it, it's lurking. Instead of clubbing your kneecaps, it'll strangle your respiratory system and knife your blood vessels.
The Government put the Auckland region back into level 3 - where nothing fun is open - no cafes, shops, restaurants, libraries, gyms, pools ... the land of takeaways, 10-person tangi and house bubbles. It's limbo.
The rest of us sit at level 2 - social distancing in public, stocking up on masks and wondering when the other shoe will drop. I'm having flashbacks to level 4 lockdown, where we could scarcely leave home. Just as burdensome is the feeling of suspicion when passing another human: Do they think I'm infected? Should I think they're infected?
I don't want to go back. But I will if I have to.
My daughter, Miss 16, is thankful she got to attend her school ball last weekend. Master 14 is hoping for a return to online school, which for him, meant almost no school.
The lockdown dread hits each time I check social media. While most people in my circle (including me) are resolved to doing what's necessary to protect public health, outliers are busy poking holes in the fabric of our five million strong team. I try to brush aside the conspiracy theorists, many of whom are clamouring for attention, seeking a role as a "thought leader" (note: if you fancy yourself a "thought leader,' you're not).
Comments like, "We've got this;" "We've done it before and we can do it again," help boost morale.
Opinions such as "The government's scamming us;" or "The virus isn't that bad," and "Vitamin C can fix this," are not only wrong, they're potentially dangerous. People with a deep mistrust of government and the medical profession are much less likely to comply with rules and follow public health advice.
This is not to say we switch off our brains and act like sheep. With online access to public officials and the ability to freely express ourselves, we can all be the watchdog.
But virus deniers aren't watchdogs - they're more like kea, squawking and chewing up the underside of your car while you're out enjoying nature. Sure, they're smart enough to solve puzzles, but they'd rather peel off your rubber door seals and eat your windshield wipers.
The kea say things like, "I've done my research ... " which is code for, "I've found websites confirming my bias". They haven't done research. They've simply joined other kea with whom to share an aerial or six.
I've seen people deal with kea in several ways: ignoring them; engaging them in argument or dissing them before blocking or unfriending them. Just as the Trump presidency in America has shown many of us sides of friends and family we didn't want to see, the pandemic is uncovering facets of people we were blissfully ignorant of before Covid struck.
The woman with a sense of style and adventure is an anti-vaxxer who thinks the government is engaging in a massive cover-up (sigh). The guy who used to make you laugh at your old job says the virus is a hoax, and he'll wear a mask over his dead body (this is one cliche that, sadly, could end up as truth). They have a right to their opinion; they don't have a right to their own set of facts, especially when those faux facts could endanger someone's life.
It was easy to dismiss eccentric uncle Ed when it seemed he was the only person espousing conspiracy theories. But people are now spreading misinformation faster than Covid (which is pretty damn fast).
One silver lining: even Twitter and Facebook are removing Covid-related falsehoods from their platforms.
A recent Psychology Today article posited one theory explaining why people may be drawn to conspiracy beliefs: it's existential threat, which is perceived danger to life or well-being. Existential threat carries twins: fear and anxiety.
How to engage when lives are on the line? Present facts and hypothetical examples, rather than attacking the theorist. The Psychology article suggests posing a straightforward question to someone spreading pro-hydroxychloroquine Covid-19 propaganda: "Would you trust a doctor giving this drug to your partner?"
Most days I'm too fed up and too tired to engage the outliers. But I do think we must continue sharing the fact New Zealand has succeeded during this pandemic in ways other countries have not.
Our case rates per capita are lower. Our death rates are lower, as are unemployment rates. Government officials have based decisions on science, not gut reactions or advice from shamans who believe demon sex causes endometriosis (the same doctor who made that assertion also made the unsubstantiated claim hydroxychloroquine was a "cure for Covid").
Fact: we're learning more each day about Covid-19. Fact: the virus causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. Fact: Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of Covid-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher than that of most strains of the flu (source: World Health Organisation).
Protect the team of five million by arming yourself with facts. Don't let a few kea destroy the undercarriage of Aotearoa.