Our lives have been shaken over the past month, and not just in the obvious ways. Here are some of the smaller, stranger things that lockdown has brought up.
When everyone withdrew into their bubbles almost four weeks ago, it was clear certain things would be different: our levels of social interaction, our incomes, and “the news” re-emerging as a central part of our day-to-day existence.
In this brave new world, we’re all fighting the virus; but we’re also baking a lot, jogging, and getting our insurance premiums cut. Here are eleven ways life under lockdown has changed New Zealand.
Everyone is exercising
The data gathering is still under way, but anecdotal evidence from all corners of the nation suggests that everyone is jogging now. The state allows us to leave the house for exercise, and many are taking that inch and running several miles. This is allowed; government guidelines say getting outdoors for exercise is fine so long as you stay within an area “readily accessed from your residence” and don’t do anything that might require a search and rescue mission.
Remember to use the nark email address if you feel someone’s exercise routine is a health risk.
The squeak is coming from inside the house. As the months grow colder and the food dries up — both last year’s mast season seed troughs and last month’s Friday night sewer Maccas are off the menu — rats are moving in on private property. They’re big, they’re bold, and they won’t pay rent. Reports of rats in ceilings and walls are coming in mostly from Auckland, but word on the street is that Wellington’s usually tree-dwelling rats have been seen indoors, too.
Pest control has been deemed an essential service “where required for human health and safety”. If you’re unable to deal with the problem on your own, are worried, and are willing to leave the house while pest control visits you can give them a call.
The birds are back
Your favourite dawn chorus is now airing all day, every day. Flooding into the vacant spots the rats left in the trees are ruru, tui, kererū, and pīwakawaka, all vying for Aotearoa’s Best Backyard Idol (our money’s on the tui). They’re not actually louder, it’s just easier to hear them without motorway noise pollution; but there definitely are more of them.
Herb Christophers, a Department of Conservation spokesperson, said that pīwakawaka are coming out of their breeding season. One pair can produce up to three broods of five chicks. So, yes, there are a few around. “When they’ve finished breeding, fantails sometimes aggregate into small flocks which are more conspicuous than the pairs they live in during the breeding season,” said Chrisophers.
It’s also possible the decrease in light and air pollution is proving for some lovely bird commutes. “The reduction in disturbances in the environment will encourage wildlife to be more bold,” said Christophers.
Sex toys boom
When the prime minister gave us 48 hours to prepare for level four, many of us chose to prepare for a month-long dry spell. In those two days alone, sales of sex toys tripled. There’s been some concern that there will be a post-lockdown baby boom, but a Family Planning spokesperson felt this was unlikely because people are unable to leave their bubbles and become pregnant.
According to Emily Writes, the majority of toys sold were from beginner ranges, so coming out of lockdown the industry might have a few more regular customers. Online stores are still cleared for delivery during levels three and four.
Insurance premiums cut
An estimated $100 million will be saved on insurance payouts over lockdown,which is good news for those paying out SkyCity. The decrease in claims has led Consumer NZ to urge insurance brokers to freeze premiums. AA Insurance, after some niggling from RNZ, announced it would freeze car insurance premiums and look to reduce them when the financial impact of the lockdown was clearer.
It’s likely that level three will keep claim numbers low, too — so further cuts could be coming.
Zero Easter road deaths
For only the second time in recorded history, New Zealand had zero road deaths over Easter weekend. The first time this happened was in 2012, when high police presence kept drivers on their best behaviour.
This year, police announced they were setting up checkpoints at holiday hotspots over the Easter period to discourage travel to holiday homes, which is banned under level four rules. Although some breached the ban and headed bachward, there were no deaths. Last year, four people died on our roads over Easter.
Alcohol sales boom
We’re buying more booze; especially beer, and especially Corona. Nielson data revealed that in the first week of lockdown, beer sales increased by 90% versus wine’s 21%. The West Auckland Trusts recently revealed that the most popular beer was Corona, making up 17% of beers sold in its stores over lockdown. Corona has ceased production of its product due to Covid-19, so this is likely to be short-lived.
While drinking to cope with lockdown is discouraged, this may not be the time for addicts to quit cold turkey; if you have a severe alcohol addiction, withdrawal is likely to require medical aid. Sudden withdrawal without the right support can result in death. Please drink responsibly.
Edmonds cookbooks around the country were dusted off at level three, when cafes closed. Almost immediately, flour became hotter property than toilet paper; Champion saw a 500% increase in demand. Now, in week three of level four, branding has been stripped away and supermarket shelves are stacked (if you’re lucky) with carefully portioned 1.5kg clear plastic bags of “baker’s flour,” one per household.
Few of us have wheat fields out back, but if you’re desperate for something bakeable you can put oats, rice, or almonds in a blender to make an alternative flour.
The flu is flushed
Flutracking is a website that tracks influenza symptoms across populations, and its most recent data shows that cases of the flu in New Zealand are down significantly from this time last year. International travel is one of the big drivers of New Zealand’s flu season, so at the moment the outlook is positive for this winter. Physical distancing will play a part in keeping the flu at bay once we drop a couple of alert levels.
There are constantly-evolving strains of flu, which is why you need a new vaccine every year; it can be dangerous, and is always disgusting, so make sure you get that shot.
We’re learning to cook
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but a six-pack of hot crossies is not a meal. In the week leading up to level four, home delivery food service My Food Bag reported their biggest weekend ever, and were up 50% on sales. With cooked food unavailable for purchase, anyone wanting a hot meal has had to learn to cook.
As level three approaches, takeaways could be back on the menu. This will come as a welcome relief to those who went into lockdown without any cooking equipment; one Wellington man has been living with only microwaved food for the past month.
Air pollution takes a dive
Non-essential travel has been banned in New Zealand for three weeks now, meaning that emission levels usually only seen on Christmas Day have now been sustained for 20 days in a row. Last week, road traffic emissions measured by NIWA at sites around the country were down by between 83% and 91% of normal numbers. Sky traffic pollution is down massively, with Air New Zealand only offering flights for absolutely essential purposes.
What long-term impact this will have on the environment — if any — is unknown. It’s also yet to be seen if there’s interest from government in maintaining a lower level of emissions as our alert level decreases. However, pumping fewer greenhouse gases into the air is undoubtedly a good thing.