Liam Dann: Its hard work holding out against lockdown despair


This lockdown is mentally very tough.

I’m writing from the privileged position of a warm dry, relatively uncrowded home, with more than enough food and booze to hand.

And it’s still tough.

Something about the sense of purgatory, the uncertainty, the inability to project forward with regards to major life plans, or even medium-term social plans, creates anxiety.

If we’re not careful that anxiety can lead to despair.

The pandemic has consumed everything in view. But finding something fresh to say about it isn’t easy.

Most of what we can say is speculative. And at this point, most of the speculation has been speculated.

Looking around the world for alternative topics isn’t much fun.

It lands us in places like China, where the recent crackdown on billionaires, celebrities and the online habits of teenagers points to another worrying step on the road to totalitarianism.

Or America, where culture wars continue to rage, threatening to tear apart what little unity is left in the United States.

Or with wild weather events and climate change which looks to be coming at us fast – with no respect for the pandemic troubles we’re mired in.

So I’m sticking with Covid.

In a two-fingered salute to the darkest recesses of my brain, I’m continuing to look for the nuggets of positivity.

Locally, community case numbers have been encouraging.

It’s too early to be counting chickens, I reckon. I’ve spent too many years watching the Black Caps to celebrate early.

I was daring to hope on Thursday, then we were hit with the mystery Middlemore Hospital case.

However, that case it pans out (it’s still a mystery case at the time of writing) is just another reminder that Delta can tip hope on its head with alarming speed.

I was heartened, though, to see Sydney-based Capital Economics changing its stance (back) to an expectation that the Reserve Bank will hike rates interest rates in October.

The economic research firm initially took a gloomy view of New Zealand’s Delta elimination prospects – picking things to pan out the way they have in Sydney and Victoria.

On that basis, they pushed their expectations for rate hikes to May next year.

I was actually quite happy with that grim forecast because, despite being more pessimistic than most, the numbers for our economic performance were still far from apocalyptic.

But on the basis of last week’s progress towards elimination, they have shifted that rate hike pick back to October – where most local economists still see it.

I like these takes from Sydney because, as much as I rate our local economists, I know just how little Australians care for Kiwi politics and how little emotionally they have tied to our fortunes.

The Capital Economics’ team also crunched some of the data from the first few weeks of lockdown.

That’s been pretty heartening too.

They note that card spending didn’t crash as sharply in level 4 as it did in 2020.

They see activity picking up quickly around parts of the country that have moved out of level 4.

On Thursday, we’ll get to see second-quarter GDP numbers that will likely show off New Zealand’s remarkable economic rebound from the lockdowns of 2020.

ANZ economists are picking 1.2 per cent growth for the quarter. That translates to a crazy 16.2 per cent growth for the year – coming off the low-point of last year’s slump, of course.

But it would equate to a very solid annual average growth rate of 4.2 per cent.

These figures are in the rearview mirror now and so, to some extent, matter little now as we battle Delta.

If nothing else, though, they’ll be a timely reminder of what we have achieved and therefore what we can achieve again.

So despite my mindset, New Zealand’s positive economic outlook still holds, at least as far as getting us back to where we were through most of the past 12 months.

Then what?

Like a very unenjoyable video game, beating the short-term gloom in my brain just gets me to the next, more difficult, level.

I start worrying about longer-term pandemic woes.

That’s where science and the ongoing vaccine development continues to provide me with hope.

There are, according to the New York Times, just eight vaccines officially approved for use.

But there are 102 vaccines currently in development.

In terms of any normal vaccine development process, we are still in the very early stages.

This bodes well for both the improved efficacy of vaccines in fighting new variants and for the eventual abundance of vaccines needed to protect poorer nations and stop Covid mutating.

The most depressing bit in the vaccine outlook remains the hesitancy of some people to take them.

This is especially acute in the US, where the vaccine is abundant but vaccination rates have stalled at less than 65 per cent of the population (12+).

There is good cause to be more hopeful about New Zealand’s vaccination rates.

I’m confident that scientists will continue to make progress and New Zealand, thankfully, will follow the science.

My last line of defence against lockdown despair is an unshakeable belief that
humans will win this fight.

No one’s going to blow a trumpet. There won’t be a VE-Day.

Covid will fade into the background until one day it will occur to us that it hasn’t been in the news for a while.

Eventually, all of this will be the distant past.

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.

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