I have one question – how dare you?
I live in Grey Lynn, an area that borders both Herne Bay and Ponsonby. The ridge my apartment sits on is called Te Rae o Kawharu, the brow of Kawharu, named for a Waikato rangatira who fought here alongside Ngāti Whātua. To an outsider it may seem like there is little difference between the suburbs – Grey Lynn is gentrified and the cost of a family home is unobtainable for most, but culturally at least it still has its charms. It has managed to retain some of the Māori and Pasifika families who settled here in the 1980s and gave the area its vibrancy. Rented properties abound, dilapidated student flats still exist and the vendors at the local shops know your name. Two of my neighbours were born and raised here, under the careful watch of the Polynesian Panthers and their after-school programmes.
On our daily stupid little walks, there’s not much choice but to head into the neighbouring areas, to the supermarkets and cafes we share with residents of Herne Bay, the most expensive suburb in New Zealand, and what I see on those trips makes me want to howl. After the rampant inequality in vaccination rates, it’s the thing that has most pushed me to despair this lockdown. I know I’ll see my friends and family eventually; I know that the claustrophobia of our small apartment will pass. What I cannot process is the sheer number of wealthy people over 60 congregating maskless on the roadside.
All of this is for you. How dare you.
More than 70% of Covid-19 deaths worldwide have been people aged 65 and over. You are the demographic New Zealand, specifically Tāmaki Makaurau, is fighting to protect, and the biggest sacrifice is overwhelmingly being made by young people. From the kids just starting school to the teens finishing school this year, they are the ones missing out on formative social and cultural experiences. Teenagers, who should be testing boundaries and exploring their identity through socialisation, are having their lives put on hold – lives that will be changed forever, in ways that are hard to see now but their parents are starting to glimpse. They won’t remember their exams, just as we don’t remember ours. But they also won’t remember trips to McDonald’s on study breaks, playing video games in their friend’s lounge, or awkwardly talking to someone they like at a party – because the opportunity to create those memories is being erased one day at a time.
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Young people also make up the majority of our hospitality and retail workforce. Some have had to continue to work under level four, where cases have been transmitted among essential workers. Some have lost part of their already small income by being forced to stay home, and some have headed back to work under level three, where fear and uncertainty still exists as case numbers show no sign of stabilising.
A colleague who works part-time in Herne Bay has had to contend with maskless people and their superiority complexes pulling up in Audis and stepping over barriers set up to protect the workers who wear their masks for their entire work day. Social media is awash with similar frustrations in Mt Eden, Remuera, Devonport and Mission Bay.
I’m fully vaccinated but I understand vaccine hesitancy – not because it’s rational, but because distrust of the powerful is. What I don’t understand is you who have everything – a nice home (probably more than one) and a life well-lived behind you – refusing to do the bare minimum while the next generation sacrifices their freedom. Covid is not happening to South Auckland or poor people or those with comorbidities, or whatever story you tell yourself in order to believe it’s OK to put the rest of us at risk. It is happening to all of us. All those undermining our sacrifice and safety by attending Saturday’s ridiculous “freedom picnic” should be condemned – not to mention the excruciatingly irresponsible commentators who condone their behaviour – but if you’re not willing to do the easiest possible thing asked of you, you’re no better. Your address just affords you a comfortable invisibility.
If and when we move into some kind of heavily restricted level two, where measures such as masks and distancing will be our only line of defence against this plague, please believe that I will find new and creative ways to tell you to pull your head in if you fail to do your part. I’m not scared of you or your money – just that your entitlement might kill someone.