COVID19: A great leveler of society


There is nothing like a major disaster to make people realize that social classes are a construct that is only as good as the events – natural, technological, economic and so forth – that toppled it. And as the world realizes this is the most global disaster since World War 2, COVID19 is testing that very construct, possibly to its limits.

Its complete and utter disregard for all walks of life across nations on both sides of the equator shows that COVID19 is sparing no part of society. Politicians, sports people, artists, students, people in every day jobs are finding that there are things that can cut a swathe right through society.

For the first time ever New Zealand’s borders are closed. Only New Zealand Citizens and Permanent Residents can enter. For the first time tourists have been deported, not for being tourists, but because they ignored the 14 day self isolation rule. Parliament is planning for a potential time in the near future where it will have to run on a skeleton staff, with minimal Members of Parliament present in the House of Representatives.

I look at the Christchurch earthquake as an example of how a disaster is some sort of crude equalizer. I have to look no further than the suburbs on the Port Hills, where many properties were well in excess of $1 million in value prior to the earthquakes of 2010-2011. Standing near cliff faces of hardened basaltic lava that flowed from the Lyttelton volcano, every time a significant earthquake hit (04 September 2010; 22 February 2011; 13 June 2011; 23 December 2011), metres of cliff face fell into Lyttelton Harbour, the sea around Scarborough Heads and onto the ground in Redcliffs. Houses that were 20-30 metres from the sea now found themselves being hastily abandoned.

At the other end of the scale, people living in poor socio-economic areas such as Aranui and Wainoni were no better off either. Many of these people had to move into the emergency accommodation set up in the gymnasium’s of major high schools, such as Burnside and Papanui High in lesser damaged parts of the city. A combination of lateral spreading and liquefaction wrecked many properties, which were red zoned.

Everyone was subject to Civil Defence Emergency Management Act, which was invoked to declare a major State of Emergency. This meant Civil Defence could direct what resources it deemed necessary to get on with response tasks could be requisitioned. A dusk to dawn curfew was imposed; schools were shut for a month; the New Zealand Defence Force had its largest peace time deployment to assist with emergency logistics; law and assisting with search and rescue.

Despite its very different origins, cause and effects, COVID19 is no different. By order of the Government nowhere can have more than 100 people indoors. Nowhere can have more than 500 people outdoors. Places that do must immediately shut until the numbers of people present are at or less than those numbers, which has meant the calling off or cancellation of some high profile weddings/receptions in New Zealand and abroad (musician Lizzie Marvelly; Princess Eugenie of U.K.). Countries like Italy where younger people and older people tend to be together more, are finding that there is a grim price to be paid, with thousands of deaths and the whole country is in lock down.

In New Zealand universities are putting their content online as lecture theatres are inside and thus cannot hold more than 100 people, even if everyone was socially distanced by two empty seats. Museums, libraries, public pools and other attractions are being closed. As yet we have not moved to a nation wide shut down, but that is possible in the coming days

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