• Kia Kaha

    For most of us, it is hard to grasp the scale of the coronavirus pandemic – or of the response to it by governments around the world.

    The whole world it seems is now in lockdown; but it is not surprising that we see the evidence of this only when it is close to home and impacts on us in a direct and personal way.

    We accordingly tend to judge the steps taken by government by the effect they have on us individually which means that we can easily lose sight of the wider picture. The truth is that we have all suffered consequences from the lockdown of one kind or another, even if it is only the sense the we have lost control of our own lives, and that we are denied contact with our families, friends and neighbours and the ability to do things we normally like doing. Not surprisingly, it is those who feel the most aggrieved by some perceived unfairness or oversight in the administration of the lockdown by the government whose voices are heard loudest.

    The impact of the lockdown can be, of course, more serious, if we find that it is our livelihoods – our jobs and businesses – that are at stake, and when – despite the commendable steps taken by government to help tide us over this difficult patch – the prospect of longer-term damage to the economy can be discerned.

    It is then that we hear the siren voices raised, from politicians and commentators, to the effect that we have “over-reacted” – that the economic damage is too great to be warranted by the prospect of a “few deaths” – and deaths, for that matter, among the frail and elderly. We hardly need a clearer illustration of the mindset that “the economy” is always paramount – it is this mindset that has led us into grievous errors in respect, not only of potentially the lives and premature deaths of our fellow-citizens, but also in respect of global warming, or the pollution of clean air and water, or the faiiure to protect a safe living environment for other creatures.

    Fortunately for us, here in New Zealand, we are spared the disgraceful calculations of a Donald Trump who, for fear that a slowing economy will harm his chances of re-election, encourages his own people, at great risk to their own health and in the midst of a rising death toll, to defy the lockdown and who is ready, in his search for a scapegoat, to hamstring the efforts of the World Health Organisation to restrain the virus.

    But we are entitled to be scornful of those would-be Trumps in our midst who seem to believe that we must choose between grappling with and overcoming the virus on the one hand, and saving the economy on the other. They cannot seem to grasp that no such choice presents itself.

    The only way to save the economy is to defeat the virus. If we allow the virus to continue unchecked, or to re-establish itself by relaxing our efforts too soon, we will not only condemn our fellow-citizens to the pain and suffering of the continued loss of their loved ones, but we will ensure that the economic consequences of the pandemic are even more painful and long-lasting, and will persist without any end in sight. And, we would be left with the uncomfortable sense that we had, as a country, failed the test that had faced us, and that we had abandoned and let down our fellow-citizens and had squandered the huge efforts of our frontline health workers..

    As we have often been told by our leaders and by large numbers of our fellow-citizens, now is the time to stay strong – kia kaha. This is not the time to weaken and reduce our commitment to defeat this plague. Our economy will recover well when we – as individuals and as a society – are well. “First things first” must be the watchword.

    Bryan Gould
    27 April 2020