As the worst wave of the Covid-19 crisis grips Donegal, life for an expat in New Zealand couldn’t be any more different.
Letterkenny native Mary Dunne is on her summer holidays, enjoying live concerts and beach trips. There are no masks, no social distancing, and businesses are open as normal.
There are less than 100 active Covid-19 cases in the whole country, and they are all in managed isolation and quarantine.
“If you walked around New Zealand you wouldn’t know that Covid had ever been here. I think everyone is made aware of the danger that is lurking out there in the world, but Covid isn’t really discussed,” Mary told Donegal Daily.
Mary is an award-winning singer-songwriter who first left Ireland 35 years ago. Now living in Christchurch, she teaches music in six local schools and performs with three local bands.
When New Zealand entered lockdown last March, Mary moved her lessons online and left home only for her daily walks. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had enforced one of the world’s toughest shut downs, but the strict measures meant that life could resume as normal as possible within six weeks. Mary could go back to performing, planning shows, and the only change in schools was a little extra cleaning and hand washing.
“I look at Jacinda Ardern and I think she treated the country like a mother would, she was really strict, she did it in a caring way. She nipped it in the bud, she came down hard and really fast and whatever she did worked,” Mary recalls.
“We knew after three weeks of lockdown, we knew we were coming out, the right results were happening.”
New Zealand is a small island nation with a similar sized population to Ireland. Even now, nobody can fly in without having an isolation room booked for two weeks on arrival.
“I think she did a bloody good job,” Mary says of Ardern.
“If you get control of the situation, everyone is informed, everybody knows exactly what is happening and exactly what to do, it works. I get that it’s easy for me to say. The point is that it works.”
Looking at the situation at home in Donegal, Mary said her heart goes out to family and friends dealing with health worries and restrictions.
“It’s heartbreaking. My parents are my main concern. They are in their mid-eighties and they are fine and thankfully really healthy people. My sister keeps an eye on them,” Mary said.
Mary recently travelled to Wellington to visit her son, and her holiday photos are a world apart from life in Ireland. After sharing pictures of concerts and busy beaches, the reaction Mary got from friends on social media was a mix of shock and of hope for better days.
“People commented that they were jealous, but it was in good humour. They know me well enough to know I wasn’t posting and rubbing it in their faces.
“I think that while you are aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world and you have the opportunity to enjoy a summer of live music and going out with friends you should do that and you do it with gratitude in your heart because you know you are lucky.”
For New Zealanders, the reality is that Covid-19 isn’t top of the agenda.
Mary said: “A lot of people here don’t realise what is going on in the rest of the world. Some people choose to be more informed than others. I choose to be informed, but I am getting stories from family and friends at home. We carry on and be thankful we are alright.
“We don’t really pay attention to the number of imported cases in controlled isolation, they are not in the community.”
The only daily habit encouraged among residents is to scan their location on a contact tracing mobile app, in case there is an outbreak.
This week, Mary is planning rehearsals with her bands ahead of upcoming concerts. She has shows booked right through to August in concert halls, city theatres and festivals. Large gatherings like these aren’t even imaginable in Ireland at the moment, but seeing that life can resume can offer some degree of hope.
She added: “There is hope and there is a system that works. People need to be sensible, respectful and kind, and that’s how it works.”