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Working from home day one. This could get ugly.

If you'd told me a couple of weeks back that coronavirus would put NZ on lock down I'd say you were mad


Dear Diary, today I did close to nothing. While typically this would be wonderful, in the context of a coronavirus lock down, it was a bit uncomfortable.


With the benefit of hindsight I was remarkably complacent with coronavirus. "Oh we'll be fine, it'll all blow over". How wrong I was. Over the past week NZ has lifted from pandemic response level two, to level three, and as of midnight on Wednesday, level four. That means almost the whole country is self-isolating in a bid to stamp out the virus. Only essential services (e.g. supermarkets and pharmacies) remain open. It is of interest to compare and contrast the experiences of different groups at a time like this.


Like most others throughout NZ I am now locked up at home, rarely venturing beyond my front yard. Frankly it's not that bad. With streaming services, games and books its shaping up to be quite a relaxing month. I am not alone. I have my wife and my cats. It'll be interesting to see the effect self-isolation has on people's mental state over the coming weeks, and potentially months. For extroverts or those who live alone, self-isolation could get ugly. Forced solitude is literally a form of torture. Though of course people can still use the phone, internet etc.


Isolation can have a variety of effects like loneliness and lack of self-confidence. Sustained periods of isolation can even cause depression, hallucinations and increased risk of chronic illnesses and heart disease. While it is critical to self-isolate to contain the virus, we need to be mindful of other health issues too and look after ourselves. Keep in touch with others during this period. It's more important than ever.


My job is one of those that you know, sounds cool and but is entirely useless in a crisis. I am an economist. A spreadsheet never saved a life, at least directly. I am open to examples that prove me wrong. I am one of the lucky ones. My job can be done from home. Report writing, numbers, meetings and calls only require a computer. By and large I can keep going with the added benefit of not having to commute. It's actually quite nice at this point, though I expect i'll start to feel a bit claustrophobic in a week.



For the families with kids its a different story. With kindergartens and schools closed kids have nowhere to be but at home with their parents or caregivers. Of course this affects children's learning, but its difficult for the parents too who are working from home. Trying to work with kids at home, particularly young kids, sounds like a nightmare. For parents working a typical eight hour day they are staring down the barrel of a very difficult schedule. How can they reasonably juggle both parenting and work commitments? What about the kids schooling? How can you get the kids to focus on that math paper while hosting a meeting? And as bad as it is for two parents, it's even harder for solo parents.


For the pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the front line this is getting ugly. They are waking up to days of long hours, anxious patients, and dangerous work conditions as they treat people with coronavirus. Government may be helpful or unhelpful depending on how quickly they put measures in place to control the spread of the virus. Healthcare workers resilience is going to be tested like never before. We are lucky to have such dedicated people going in to fight for us.


With the risk to the system it is critical to protect healthcare workers. If one pharmacy goes down there could be hundreds of people for whom it is now more difficult to get their medicines. If a clinician gets coronavirus that puts extra pressure on other clinicians to plug the gap. Protecting the healthcare workforce has never been more important. There are stories of clinicians separating from their families to avoid the risk that they are infected by a family member. The risk is that our healthcare workers get overwhelmed by the shear scale of coronavirus.


There isn't typically a lot of slack in the health system. There aren't hundreds of unused ward beds waiting for someone to get sick, or bored nurses and doctors. The system is sized to suit what is typically needed. Mostly this works alright (though it's not perfect) with the bit of slack there is being used to absorb smaller emergencies. A shock like coronavirus with many more patients and resources required is difficult to absorb. People panic in times like this and may hoard medicines or visit the GP needlessly putting extra pressure on the system. The standard of care could be compromised with patients and clinical staff having to make do. Aggressive triage may be needed with patients turned away if the health system can't cope. When you see exponentially increasing graphs of coronavirus cases and tremble, think about those people on the front line, and stay home.


If it get's really bad, who knows, maybe we will have to re-purpose hotels as hospitals. With the hit on tourism it's not like they are being used anyway.


Speaking of which, those in accommodation, tourism, airlines, hospitality and events are really going to struggle. Their customers come to them. They don't have the luxury of being able to work from home and are not an essential service. With the spread of the virus and lock down these industries have seen their customers disappear almost overnight. The Government's rescue package will absorb some of the punch, but for many of these businesses and employees the virus will be a knock out blow. We are set for a substantial increase in unemployment.


There will be an increase in welfare payments as more and more people lose their jobs. Frankly, it has never been more important to have a robust social safety net. At the same time governments will look to initiate large spending programmes to cushion the economic blow and prop up demand and employment. For some people though, it will be very difficult to find jobs. The long-term ramifications of unemployment are very harmful. Long-term unemployed people often experience reduced wages and employment opportunities throughout the rest of their careers. Sure the economy will bounce back in time. but it will be a bumpy ride.


There is one positive that I am seeing with coronavirus though. Unity. Believe it or not it is there, underneath the bullshit panic buying. You can see it in the look of understanding people give each other that says "we are in this together". In times of adversity you see people's true colours. Other than sports events, I can't recall another time in recent memory when I have seen society band together. Seeing people respond cohesively to fight the virus is encouraging and gives me hope. Stay safe and stay home.



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A New Zealand based politics and economics blog

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