Captain’s Log, Stardate 222022

I’m writing this as a note to my future self more than anything else. It’s easy to forget what happened when, so this is a record of how things are right now and what’s happened since the last update in May 2020 (which seems like a very long time ago!). It’s been almost two years since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. So where are we at?

To the numbers first. Below are the ‘confirmed’ cases / deaths (so both figures are potentially much higher). Actual cases are probably double or triple this number because a lot of countries do minimal testing.

Updated 02/02/22, as reported to the WHO

This is a staggering number of people. If you say it quickly, 5.6 million people doesn’t sound as bad as say, deaths from the World Wars (~40m and 85m) but it’s still a very large and scary number.

The pandemic has come in waves as new variants emerge and take hold. We’ve had Alpha (UK, Sept 2020), Beta (South Africa, May 2020), Gamma (Brazil, Nov 2020), Delta (India Oct 2020), Omicron (Multiple, Nov 2021).

Looking at the graph below, you’d think that Africa has been pretty lucky to have so few deaths. In reality it’s just that they don’t record deaths so this number is invariably much higher. COVID has been managed so differently the world over depending on who’s in power and how many resources the country has. Nothing new there. Our approach (more on this soon) has been both lauded and criticised – what you think governments should do to manage COVID usually depends on what side of the political divide you’re on.

Riding the wave – pandemic deaths Dec 2019 to Dec 2021 by region

For a long while Delta was the primary strain – it’s easier to catch than the earlier versions and so has overtaken the others. New Zealand was fairly successful at keeping Delta at bay. Now we have Omicron – it’s even more infectious and harder to detect.

So what has little old New Zealand been doing since I last posted?

We went “hard and early” with a full lockdown that all but stamped out the virus in New Zealand (except at the border). The government instituted a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) process for all new arrivals at our border. This effectively stopped the virus from taking hold within New Zealand – we “flattened the curve”.

Eventually though, the Delta variant snuck into the community in Auckland, which led to a lockdown of Auckland and Northland between August and December 2021. The rest of the country was operating mostly as normal during that time. Just as we were starting to recover from Delta, Omicron came along and everything changed again. We had our first confirmed community case of Omicron in Dec 2021.

COVID-19 cases in New Zealand Mar 2020 to Jan 2022

At the end of 2021 the Government changed from an Alert Level framework (Level 4 = full lockdown, Level 1 = business as usual) to the COVID-19 Protection Framework or “Traffic Lights”. We are currently in Red, attempting to slow the spread of Omicron. The emphasis has shifted from ‘stamp it out” to managing COVID in the community and learning to live with it.

The reason we’ve been able to say goodbye to lockdowns is because we now have vaccines available. These were first developed in mid-2020 and New Zealand started vaccinating its adult population at the beginning of 2021 and its children (5-11 year olds) in Feb 2022. The vaccine requires at least two doses and the recommendation is that we have a ‘booster’ as well – so really three doses for good protection.

Despite a small vocal minority of people who have actively campaigned against vaccination, we’ve had a very high uptake – this is what has allowed us to begin the process of opening up safely. The vaccine makes it significantly less likely that you’ll catch COVID, means you’re much less likely to pass it on, and makes the illness far less serious for most people.

Having said all that, after several months of freedom – pretty much working and socialising as normal (but with the added fun of wearing a mask in public), I’m back working from home and only going out for essential trips. We’ve been encouraged to work from home and limit our travel. Omicron is expected to hit hard, and while it’s not as deadly as earlier variants the clinical advice is that we should be trying to avoid catching it. At the moment there is limited community spread and only a few cases in the community in Christchurch.

It feels like we are in a strange holding pattern waiting for the next wave to crash in. Who knows what will happen next.

How Animal Crossing saved my (everyday) life

You’re probably not one of the estimated 11 million people playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). This cute little time-waster has been called the game we all need right now – it hit the e-shelves on March 20th, just at the right time to occupy millions of kids and adults stuck at home with a Nintendo Switch and nowhere to go….including me.

I jumped on the ACNH bandwagon on March 29th, to give me something to do in the vast span of time between finishing work at 4.30pm and bedtime. This time used to be allocated to community work – meetings, admin etc. In lockdown, early evening was the hardest for me. I’m used to leaving work and racing around doing stuff – now I move from the study to the living room (four steps), and then what? After the first week in Alert Level 4, I was all caught up on my TV watching and podcast listening and wasn’t sure what to do next. ACNH was the perfect gap filler.

It’s a life-making game. You create your character and then find yourself on a small island with a few supplies and Tom Nook to help you find your way. The goal of the game is to decorate your island by planting flowers and trees, upgrade from a tent to a house (and then a bigger house) and make furniture. Once your island is looking sufficiently lush, you’ll get villagers come join you – up to ten little animal characters with their own interesting quirks (randomly selected from hundreds of possible animals). Your job is to make friends with them by spending time with them and giving them items so they can also live their best island life.

It’s really hard to explain why I love this game so much. It’s slow, there is nothing much going on, and no pressure to do much of anything. Most days when I’m playing, I potter around – fishing, tending my gardens, talking to my islanders. In fact, that’s exactly why I love it.

The whole family was playing the game during lockdown – me, Megan, Antony, Bronwen, Isaac and eventually Stephen. The game has a feature where you can fly to another player’s island for a visit, and trade items. It became a nice way to connect when we couldn’t see each other in person. Once we finished lockdown, the kids went back to regular life, but I am still playing daily. I find it relaxing, and I’ve grown fond of my little islanders on Taimoana (the name of my island).

A huge online world has opened up around the game too – it’s amazing! There are several YouTube and Twitch channels where people stream their playtime. There are Discord servers where you can share items and ideas. I’m sure it will come and go just like other fads have, but right now it’s a cultural phenomenon – maybe it will be studied one day!

How did I get here?

The last couple of months has been a wild ride. The world (and I mean the whole actual world) has been turned upside-down by Covid-19.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, and I just haven’t known where to start…

I’m in my seventh week of working from home – since March 23rd. What started as a small viral outbreak in China in December has swept the world and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 12th. Today, the stats look like this:

  • Worldwide cases: 3, 525, 116
  • Worldwide deaths: 243, 540
  • Highest deaths: USA 61,906; Italy 29,079; UK 28,734

It’s mind boggling, sad, and not about to end any time soon (although death rates are now slowing in most countries as they restrict movement of citizens).

New words and phrases have entered the lexicon – lockdown, bubble, flattening the curve, Zooming.


The New Zealand government put the country in full lockdown – Alert Level 4 – on March 25th. All but essential workers were expected to stay at home except for food shopping or exercising in our local area. All shops were closed except groceries and petrol stations. This ended on April 27th.

New Zealand is currently in Alert Level 3. This means that everyone who can work from home should do so, and everyone is expected to stay at home unless they are travelling for work, exercise or shopping. I’ve only left the house for walking/running and grocery shopping since March 20th. It’s the complete polar opposite of my regular life!

I’m looking forward to Alert Level 2 where we may be able to go out a little more often – businesses can open as long as they can follow some rules around maintaining physical distance (1 metre) and contact tracing.

At the moment, Alert Level 1 seems a long way off. That would mean the resumption of ‘normal’ life within New Zealand, but no travel outside of New Zealand.

The Bubble

My Level 4 bubble has been me, Stephen and Bronwen. We were excited to extend our Level 3 bubble to include Megan, Isaac, Antony, Wyatt and Arlia. These are the only people I get to have close contact with until Level 1.

Flattening the Curve

New Zealand, along with many other countries, has been focussed slowly the rate of transmission of the virus so that the health system is not overwhelmed with cases. New Zealand has been very successful at this – I think amongst the best in the world. We locked down early, stayed that way for a long time, and most people complied with the rules. That meant that we had a spike of cases followed by a gradual reduction over the last few weeks. It looks like this:


Weirdly and suddenly, Zoom has been part of my everyday life. When we first started working from home, my team was using Skype. Then out of nowhere, Zoom appeared. Now I’m using it to connect with all kinds of people – colleagues, friends, family, community groups. I admit, I’m pretty Zoomed-out at the end of most days.

What my everyday looks like

I’m working from home, playing at home, everything at home.
Some days it’s a grind – I find it hard to stay focused and just want to get up and walk away. Lots of micro-pauses is the key – I take small breaks to have cups of tea, do a bit of crochet, watch a YouTube clip, or just sit in a chair in another room for five minutes.

I haven’t been able to go to the gym, go shopping (except for groceries and a bit online), or do any community work. This last one is hard! I’ve been a community busy-body for so long I hardly know what to do with myself!

But there is also a peace in staying at home – I’m safe and warm and being (fairly) productive. It’s starting to feel normal.