A former Sudbury woman, now living in New Zealand, is okay with the idea that her entire country went into lockdown in response to a handful of new cases of COVID-19.
Amanda Valois was commenting this week as news agencies around the world reported that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a full three-day lockdown Tuesday in response to one new case of COVID-19. Valois, who now lives in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, was born in Thunder Bay and used to live in Sudbury.
The announcement of the New Zealand lockdown was on the same day that Ontario's chief medical health officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced Ontario was pausing its reopening in response to a rising number of COVID-19 cases and a drop in the number of Ontarians opting to get vaccines.
Valois, who lived in Sudbury from 2000 to 2008, attended Laurentian University. She moved to New Zealand to pursue a PhD and has been living there since 2011, where she works as an environmental scientist.
In an email interview, Valois said the COVID-19 approach in her new country is different, but seems effective.
"I have been very impressed with how the NZ government has led the country through COVID. The approach, a strong quarantine system at the border, a few sharp, but short, lockdowns, has meant that I have been able to carry on relatively normally over the past 15 months; going to the gym, attending festivals, dining out, getting massages. It seems like a far more proactive approach and with better outcomes overall," Valois said.
Observers have both praised and criticised New Zealand's COVID-19 approach of hitting hard and hitting early. Valois said strong government support has helped.
"I also think two key contributors to the success and uptake of these lockdown approaches has been the financial support in terms of a wage subsidy for those who need it and the great communication and transparency coming from the government, including regular 1 p.m. news updates and even Facebook live videos at night from our prime minister. I found those late night ‘chats’ with the prime minister really calming during the first lockdown when my anxiety was high. The government messaging has always been very clear with an emphasis on community and kindness," she said.
Prime Minister Ardern's action forced the shutdown of all schools, all offices and businesses with only essential services remaining open.
"I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality. Going hard and early has worked for us before," Ardern told the media.
Valois said her circle of friends and co-workers are not bothered by the government action.
"Almost all of my friends and colleagues are supportive of this latest lockdown (Go team of 5 million!) but as a scientist, I recognize most of my circle have a pretty good understanding of basic epidemiological principles. But I do believe the horrible situation in Australia right now has a big role to play in the support I hear, both on social media and in conversations with friends. We have witnessed what the Delta strain has done over there without a quick response and have taken their learnings to heart," Valois said.
She added there is a community Facebook page where friends and neighbours can reach out and ask for help.
"My friend group has a Whats App group to check on one another. And my workplace is having daily online catch ups to check in with one another. It feels like we are all quite prepared for this latest lockdown," she said.
That said, Valois said she has been touched by the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and how it has impacted friends in other countries.
"My heart has been aching for my friends and family in other countries. I have had a few friends contract long COVID, one friend lost her dad, and a number of friends lost jobs. My grandmother was locked in her nursing home not able to go outside or see her family," she said.
"It felt largely unfair that no matter the best efforts of many that the careless actions of a few (along with the spread of disinformation on social media) could have such a profound impact on so many lives," she added.
Many of her friends back in Canada seemed surprised that New Zealand, as an island nation of five million, has been able to effectively keep COVID-19 at bay.
"It has been interesting keeping in touch with the outside world because, until recently, it felt like New Zealand was still existing in the ‘before times’. Often when I would share a picture on social media of a gig I went to, I would get comments from shocked friends overseas wondering why there were no masks or social distancing. They would share stories about anti-maskers and protestors and arguments with loved ones and it was the divisiveness that was most shocking to me. My main thought over the past year and a half was how lucky I was not having to go to work risking exposure to COVID," Valois said.
She said that her experience has been mainly positive and Valois said there isn't anywhere else she would rather be during a pandemic.
"But I recognise I am in an extremely privileged position; I live in a warm flat close to the ocean, I am surrounded by beautiful trails to walk in, I can work from home and haven’t lost any income, and I have a strong social network for support," said Valois.
"However, being far away from so many I love and not knowing if they will be OK has been very difficult. The pandemic was largely the inspiration for a family chat group that started which has been a wonderful way to stay in touch with family, including people I have never met. I naively believed when I moved here that I was always only a few plane rides away (25+ hours of travel time still beats a few weeks on a boat). Now it has been three years since I have seen my loved ones and I am not sure when I will be able to see them again."
Valois said if there is one thing she has learned about isolation from friends and loved ones is to never take for granted the ability to spend time with them.
“I remember talking to my Grandma (Brantford, Ontario) last year while she was in lockdown and sick, and hearing the sadness in her voice. And at that time I would have given anything to be back in Canada to see her again. I would love to be back to visit those I care about when it is safe. I hope to never take for granted the power of being physically present and being able to hug the ones I care about again."
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.
Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com