Thursday, 26th March, 2020

This article was published in the NZ Herald, 26 March, 2020.

The coronavirus crisis is bringing out the best and the worst in us. In the midst of uncertainty and fear of the rapidly changing circumstances that are now the new normal, community spirit is shining through.

The Government's rescue package and swift payments to keep as many New Zealanders in jobs and businesses operating, mortgage breaks to home owners, along with a caring eye to beneficiaries and the most vulnerable members of our society, shows courage and responsibility to shore up the foundations of our society. It is also a relief for many that New Zealand's borders are now closed to all but returning compatriots.

Yes, there is more that needs to be done by Government to provide tax relief, for instance, ensure the wage subsidies aimed at stressed SMEs are going into the right pockets so employees can support their families, and banks can hurry up to pass on the benefits to customers of the plunge in OCR rates and the latest injection of fiscal help from the Reserve Bank that will help keep the economy ticking over.

Government is working to keep essential industries and services operating, if on a limited scale. Air New Zealand and its largest shareholder, the Government, have worked out a debt funding agreement which includes loan facilities of up to $900 million that can be converted to equity to keep essential routes and the national airline operating.

Government is also talking with big businesses to find solutions to keep these powerhouses operating and resourced to gear up when the pandemic fades. None of the effort is going to be able to soften the full force of the cruel blow of inevitable mass redundancies and business closures as our society and economy goes into withdrawal. We are in self-protection mode.

As individuals we hold the power and ability to help ourselves, adapt and learn to live the best we can and do what is right, not just motivated by our own self-interest but with an eye to the greater good. It is common sense that we have to do things differently to survive in these difficult and unprecedented times but if we are to thrive in the future, we have to plan today to be ready for tomorrow when recovery comes.

Already there are positive signs coming out of China that the economy is turning, factories are starting up again and for New Zealand, the first kiwifruit shipments are on the water to this hungry market. Vaccines are in development and being tested.

Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have shown how to contain and manage the virus – and their obedient and mindful citizens have shown how powerful a national ethos of working for the greater good of society can be. When the authorities said stay at home they stayed at home. We must too. We are in a state of national emergency and the rules we are asked to follow are there to protect us all.

But, even as social distancing and self-isolation become part of our daily vocabulary, the community is galvanising, rallying to the morale boosting cry that we're all in it together. People are reaching out to keep the vital social connections going, using social media to chat, live streaming to share events or classes, keeping an eye on the elderly, sick and lonely, dropping off medicines and groceries and checking in on the neighbours, even if it is over the fence.

Supermarkets and provision stores are working valiantly, keeping shelves stocked and waves of panic buying at bay. Individuals are also much more mindful and conscientious about rigorous hand washing and drying - and having the good sense not to cough all over someone.

We are growing physically apart, confined to our homes with tens of thousands of people now working from home, kids about to enter a new era of online learning, public transport running to slimmer schedules, cafes, bars and restaurants closed, gigs cancelled and social gatherings from funerals to weddings now becoming social media events, streamed live.

But, there is a new phenomenon emerging. As a nation we are pulling closer together mentally and emotionally. We have got the message that indeed we are all in this together - and together with the rest of the world.

Our close circle of family, friends, colleagues has radiated out to encompass the nation and widened again as the world comes together to face the same dangers at the same time, sharing the fears, anxiety, stress and hopes of a speedy vaccine and return to our comfort zones.

I see the renewal of the we, not another me too and not the "I" that has been a hallmark of this era, as we live through a time of crisis that very few of us have every experienced or ever dreamed possible and remember we are humans, we are fragile.

Some see this rise of a new community spirit as reminiscent of the war, and Churchill's great, rousing speeches to fight on and never surrender. Even the Queen has sent a message promising that the royal family will do their bit.

We too must do our bit at home, at work and in the community. We are not helpless or witless. We can put away politics, stockpiling, profiteering and selfishness to look after each other and grow stronger as a nation that is united as a community. We can do it.


For more information contact Michael Barnett, mobile: 0275 631 150.
Michael Barnett, Chief Executive, Auckland Business Chamber.