The bananas were the first to go. “Look,” I said to my daughter. We stood and gazed at the supermarket shelves set aside for bananas. They’d been stripped bare less than an hour after the latest lockdown was announced. We sighed, and then went about stripping the shelves of nectarines. She asked, “Will six do?” I said, “No. Grab 10. You never know.”
Last night’s lockdown announcement took place at 7pm. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called an urgent press conference and emergency sirens wailed from mobile phones – they’d make a good ringtone – as New Zealanders were told to return to various states of lockdown. A family of three in South Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19. The city was put in lockdown level 3 at midnight, the rest of the country in the more relaxed level 2. It’s in place till Wednesday midnight and what happens after that is largely going to depend on whether more cases are tested positive in the community.
We’ve been here before and it wasn’t great. Lockdown 3.0 follows the first and most serious one last March, and the brief repeat in August. A three-day lockdown – if that’s all it amounts to – is hardly a big deal. “There’s no need to rush out and get essential items,” Ardern said last night. But the supermarkets of Auckland were immediately the scene of a polite stampede as people rushed out to get inessential items. Reports of queues came in fast.
Panic on the streets of Greenlane. Panic on the streets of Botany. Will life ever be sane again? “Oranges,” I said to my daughter. “Grab some oranges.”
There was a long queue outside our supermarket on the Te Atatu peninsula. Inside, a much longer queue went around the perimeter of the shelves. It was very orderly and very, very slow. There were quite a few shoppers who felt the need to stock up on 36 rolls of toilet paper. Hardly anyone wore a mask. The mood was neighbourly and a bit abashed. A low murmur of conversation rose above the aircon hum.
“It’s a madhouse.”
“People are crazy.”
“Grab some apples.”
Everyone has been bracing themselves for another lockdown. The new strains of Covid-19 – the South African variant, the British variant – were bound to creep past the border sometime, somehow. But we got away without it all throughout Christmas and New Year, and the summer holidays. It was bliss. I travelled with my girlfriend one day on the little ferry across Wellington harbour to the sandy shore of Days Bay, where Katherine Mansfield set her famous short story At the Bay. “Lazily flopped the warm sea,” Mansfield wrote, exactly 100 years ago, and it was just the same now.
Things were so relaxed that no one could be bothered baiting a Covid-19 denier who took a megaphone to spread his message outside WestCity mall in Henderson, west Auckland. “It’s a scam,” he blathered. I saw him a couple of times. “Thank you for listening,” he said when he finished his speech, but no one had listened. We had other, better things on our mind. The country was ablaze with music festivals, cricket, boat races. The hardest decision of the day was which beach to head to, and every day smelled of sea salt, sunscreen, and the smoke that rose from a team of five million barbecuers. It felt so good and it also felt like a fool’s paradise.
Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day lockdown felt like a massacre of our daydreamy state of mind but we all knew it couldn’t last. At least it didn’t happen during the holidays. At least it’s only level two outside Auckland. At least it’s only – for the time being – three days. It’s raining, anyway. Good weather to stay inside, pad out the days with Netflix, and cut up lots of fruit.