Tasha Black greeted me in the foyer. A VSA worker from New Zealand, Black has been enlisted to help Te Marae Ora communicate the ministry’s coronavirus response to the public.
I smiled, introduced myself and reached out to shake her hand.
She pinned her arms to her sides, and hastily took a step back. “Sorry, the policy is we’re not allowed to shake hands.”
We’re invited into the meeting room where we meet visiting British doctor Dr Akeem Ali, from the World Health Organization. After working other epidemics and health crises, he’s practiced at social distancing. He gives me a mid-air, non-contact fist bump.
It would be easy to ridicule this response. But this new tactic of “social distancing” actually makes sense, to limit the risk of Covid-19 transmission. No kiss on the cheek when you meet someone. No hug. No handshake.
Cook Islands church choirs are being advised to stand in a single row, so the basses and tenors at the back aren’t spraying droplets over the sweet-voiced youngsters at the front.
Social distancing won’t come easily. The warmth of human touch helps bind communities together, in Cook Islands culture even more than most.
But these are strange and uncomfortable times, and there will be difficult decisions to be made. If our toughest decision is to not kiss an aunty on the cheek, we can count ourselves lucky.
Cook Islands News has given an assurance to government, to Te Marae Ora and to our readers that we will help to communicate good, calm, accurate information about the response to Covid-19.
When there is hysteria and misinformation in other forums like social media, we promise our reporting will be informed and evidence-based.
That’s our agreement with our community. Though, we won’t shake on that