“I’m not afraid because I’m taking precautions,” says Nadeep Singh, a travel agent in Papatoetoe, the South Auckland suburb that has reportedly sparked a return to lockdown and a pivotal change in the country’s battle with the pandemic.
His business was closed to customers but Singh was working “flat out” – alone in his locked office – getting refunds for clients who are now unable to take the trips they had booked with him.
Most of the building is occupied by a mini mart owned by his family, where staff too are busy stocking up in case of panic buying ahead of what Singh believes is an inevitable extension of the level 3 restrictions on New Zealand’s biggest city. “I’m presuming there will be another two weeks of lockdown.”
The current lockdown for 1.4 million residents is due to end at midnight on Friday.
Any extension is a major concern in South Auckland, a region associated with social deprivation, including low income levels and high-density living. Health officials see these as risk factors for the spread of coronavirus, although that has not yet been seen in Covid-19 data. Calls to charities and organisations dealing with financial stress and food insecurity are expected to rise.
On Tuesday, everything changed in New Zealand with the announcement of the first confirmed cases of coronavirus outside isolation facilities in 102 days.
On Thursday, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced 13 new Covid-19 cases in Auckland, all linked to the original four confirmed cases from Tuesday’s outbreak. There are now 17 active community cases. Nineteen other active cases have been diagnosed in managed isolation and are linked to the border.
The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said more cases are “fully expected”, and the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the outbreak would get worse before it got better.
On Thursday, more people seemed to be wearing masks than when New Zealand was in its most restrictive level 4 lockdown – from late March until early June. “Anxiety? Yes, it’s there in the community,” says Singh, “but we can’t help it. It is what it is.”
Bus driver Leti Kamira snr shares his five-bedroom Mangere home with his wife and 14 children aged seven to 20. . Kamira says lockdown does make it harder given the space constraints at home together. “We are well. God bless you,” he said.
‘Oh bugger, here we go again’
The mall at Mangere town centre was closed but food and other stores, such as a clothes shop were open. Business was slow, says owner Arti Deva. “People are afraid to come and shop.”
Local resident Colin Brown, thought it was “a bit ridiculous” to say the lockdown was only for three days. “There’s a bit of ‘oh bugger, here we go again’.” “It’s early days. The first one [lockdown] was a bit of novelty almost. This one I think will make people more frustrated.”
Like Singh, Mangere Budgeting Services, a charity that helps with financial planning and provides food parcels, is gearing up for a sharp rise in demand.
“Many families, plus individuals and pensioners, are already calling and asking for food parcels,” chief executive Darryl Evans says. He is worried food insecurity will increase, even though the government has invested in food banks in recent months.
“Our families living in South Auckland are most definitely worried and anxious, especially should the wage subsidy go.”
The number of people assisted by the service has been steady so far but Evans says he expects this to be “the calm before the storm”. “This will cause more people to lose jobs in my opinion.”
However, he was confident the experience of New Zealand’s earlier lockdown had left his service better prepared.
“Kiwis are resilient and so, with good support from essential services like ours, I do believe we will get through this. I refer to my team as being [adaptable] like number 8 wire – we just roll up our sleeves and get on with it.”