Editor’s Note: Citizen columnist and UNBC chemistry Todd Whitcombe is currently on sabbatical in New Zealand. He sent this dispatch to The Citizen (along with his regular science column, which will appear next week) from Nelson, a city of about 50,000 people, on Friday afternoon (Saturday morning in New Zealand).
So, my South Island tour came to a crashing end. I am presently in Nelson (south island, New Zealand not B.C. south). I probably won't be able to get back to Canada until May. No going out for the next four weeks. My flights back to Canada have all been cancelled. Essential travel inside the country only. I am getting the feeling taking a sabbatical was a bad idea!?
Conditions are very good for me. I was traveling the south island and was in Westport the day before the lock down. The hotel there was quite willing to put me up for the duration. Instead, I pushed through to Nelson (larger city with better resources) and moved into the hotel I had already booked. The owner and I have talked and he is planning on working to a weekly rate, which is quite reasonable. Not having the room serviced daily but I do have a kitchenette with a range, fridge, microwave, and sink with dishes, pots, and pans. There are half a dozen suites occupied. On the whole, it is a pretty good situation.
New Zealand has yet to report a death from COVID-19, although that will likely not last. It has a population of about 4.7 million (comparable to B.C.) and only 368 cases (confirmed or suspected). Only one case is in the ICU (and unfortunately that is in the Nelson Hospital!) so we seem to have things “under control”. Of course, everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and cases to explode. The number of community cases is very low - under 10. The vast majority are directly traceable to travel (either people who came home sick, were infected en route, or have passed it to those family and friends contacted upon returning).
But so far, things are fine. Kiwis seem determined to pull together and respond in a sensible, friendly fashion. And I should be able to wait out the lockdown - and beyond if necessary. On the other hand, I would really like to find a way to get home!