• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Photo/Getty Images

Self-isolating in a full house

For now, I can create a sense of order and control by cleaning things, but once there are six in a three-bedroom home, if one gets a cold, let alone Covid-19, it will surprise me if six of us do not.

As I write this, the German backpacker we adopted for the past few days is on his way to Dubai, then, we hope, to Zürich, if immigration authorities there allow him to enter. In the time he stayed with us, his flights to Frankfurt were cancelled, rebooked, then cancelled permanently when the airline said it was no longer flying to Germany.

He was anxious when we took him to the airport, and I felt sorry for him embarking alone on a 38-hour trip (featuring long stopovers) unsure whether he would be allowed in to Switzerland on arrival. With a virus spreading, economies imploding, “Stage 4” conditions being put in place and borders closing, last week’s concerns seem a lifetime ago and last month was, in my memory, a utopian paradise. You could even buy baking powder then.

Soon after our young friend touches down in Zürich, our elder daughter heads to Heathrow to start her trip home. She was doing a semester’s exchange in the UK, but the semester has been cut to two months. For one of those months, the University of Sussex, where she is enrolled, was on strike. The week following the end of the strike, the university closed because of the coronavirus disease risk. After a couple of law lectures on wills and succession, I think my normally studious daughter spent many evenings undertaking off-campus research on British licensing laws until that option was also closed off and she taught herself to knit. At least these days you know where your kids are.

Because the Listener does not have an office in Wellington, I already worked from home and now have been joined by my husband and our son and daughter-not-by-law, who live with us. We have set up our laptops around the dining table, will appoint a fire warden and will leave snarky notes in the kitchen reminding each other to clean our coffee cups to make it feel like a real workplace.

Later in the week, the daughter requiring self-isolation will arrive. If university halls close, our younger daughter will have to come home, too. I would not describe us as overcrowded, but once we are six in a three-bedroom house, social distancing is impossible short of positioning a mirror halfway up the staircase where it turns, like on one of those crazy Wellington streets, so you can see whether anyone else is coming up or down before setting off. If one gets a cold, let alone Covid-19, it will surprise me if six of us do not.

Although our house is becoming more populated than usual, it is also receiving more housework attention as though I can keep a virus away by frequently dusting the windowsills, on top of the usual chores. So far, this enhanced attention to housework is my only manifestation of illness, and I expect the symptoms to fade quickly.

For now, I can create a sense of order and control by cleaning things and have been rewarded by seeing the sun refract brilliantly off the newly washed crystal on a windowsill. Who knew that could happen? It’s like owning new stuff, but all I ever had to do was wash the old stuff. The things you discover.

Working from home is obviously not an option for everyone. If you are a dentist, a truck driver, a service station attendant, a rest-home caregiver or barista, you cannot do it from home. And there are also those for whom home has never been a safe place. For them, as stress increases and income decreases, home will be more dangerous than ever.

All we can do for now is follow the public-health guidelines while trying to focus on other things. For me this week, that meant today picking up my mother’s ashes from the funeral home. And I was due to have a root canal on Thursday, if by then I can still go to the endodontist. Does toothache count as needing urgent medical attention? Once, the idea of not being able to have a root canal would have delighted me. Now, the possibility of not being able to have one is just another reminder to be careful what you wish for.

Visit the Ministry of Health website or Covid19.govt.nz for more information on the coronavirus disease. 

For more on the political, cultural and literary life of the country, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up to our weekly newsletter.