Jaewynn McKAY: Cook Islands’ great leap of faith

Wednesday 26 February 2020 | Published in Editorials


Jaewynn McKAY: Cook Islands’ great leap of faith
It's a dog's life, relying on others to protect you from coronavirus. This dog's owner made it a home-made snout cover to protect it from Covid-19. 20022510

OPINION: Unless you are particularly fond of your son’s current partner/girlfriend, it might pay to lock him up this Saturday!

This Saturday is the 29th of February, a leap day, and a date that occurs every four years.

Every four years an extra day is added to the end of February to create a leap year.

More than 2000 years ago, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and 16th century Pope Gregory XIII (he who invented the Gregorian calendar – the standard calendar that most of the world uses) recognised the need to help synchronise the calendar year with the solar year.

The solar year is the length of time it takes the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, which is around 365¼ days.

The story goes that in the 5th Century, an Irish nun called St Bridget complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose.

St Patrick suggested that women could have the opportunity to ask the question but only every four years.

Apparently, women were also expected to have to wear either breeches or a scarlet petticoat to signal their intention.

My husband says, gentlemen, you have been warned; if you see a woman approaching wearing breeches or a scarlet petticoat this weekend (he has no idea how you get to check on the scarlet petticoat) and marriage is not something you’re contemplating right now, run.

What are the chances of being born on leap day? Apparently about 1 in 1,500, far higher than contracting coronavirus. Now that’s a leap you probably didn’t see coming, did you?

Coronavirus can seem a little bit like something that’s happening to other people and countries far far away. Way distant from our shores and only of marginal or curiosity interest to us.

But if you follow the international news with any regularity, you will know that that is not the case and things can change very rapidly. For a time, it seemed to be happening mostly in China, with one or two cases elsewhere in Asia.

Suddenly cases have been found in Italy, a wealthy European country whose first world medical services should have been organised enough to contain a small outbreak, but it hasn’t, and the virus appears to be getting ahead of them.

At first the answer seemed easy: isolate the people of Hubei province in China where the outbreak was first recognised in the city of Wuhan; stop allowing people from China to enter your country as New Zealand and Australia have done, but an outbreak on cruise ships shows that far greater precautions have to be taken.

New Zealand has at least enunciated that it has a responsibility to prevent – as much as possible – Covid-19, the virus’s official name, from spreading to the Pacific nations.

But apart from that, what are we doing to protect ourselves? We need to be told in no-nonsense terms what measures our government has in place now, to mitigate against the arrival of the virus here; because it surely will.

As I waited at the airport the other night, I couldn’t help but think about the hundreds and hundreds of passengers that arrive on the many flights we have each week and the potential for one of them to be carrying the virus.

At the moment I’ve no doubt that we rely on the fact that the virus doesn’t appear to be in New Zealand yet, and that those passengers (with the exception of three flights a week from Sydney, LA and Papeete) have come via New Zealand.

But then earlier this week I watched as passengers streamed ashore from a visiting cruise ship and had real doubts about how tenable those visits are, or will be, as the virus spreads further round the world.

I wasn’t convinced by the Tourism Corp comment that there was no need to worry because none of the passengers onboard had been in Asia recently, and it would be very worrying if that’s the extent of the due diligence the authorities intend applying in the future.

There must be at least a chance – perhaps a remote one – that the passengers on board might have had contact with “someone” who has been in China at a previous port that they disembarked prior to arriving here.

The numbers of people infected and the numbers who’ve died continues to rise; when I checked while writing this a day or so ago there were more that 80-thousand people diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 2,700 reported deaths. Those figures are scary but to put them in some sort of context I offer these facts.

Covid-19 is a bit like the flu. And like the flu you can have a mild or heavy dose. In the US this year they are expecting somewhere between 29 and 41 million people to get a dose of flu or flu like illness.

Up to about 19 million will end up visiting a doctor, and about half a million will end up in hospital. While not all flu cases are recorded, on an annual basis the US can get more than 50,000 deaths attributed to the flu.

So once again, what are the plans for here?

Do we have any? Or in this leap year, are we banking on a leap of faith that we will get through this untouched?