3 Jul 2020

After the Virus: Society

From After the Virus, 7:00 am on 3 July 2020

Has the Covid-19 pandemic really changed the world forever? And if so, how? In the final episode of the After The Virus podcast, focused on society, Emily Mandel, Clementine Ford and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait tell Guyon Espiner their thoughts.

It was the sound of ambulance sirens that kept bringing Emily Mandel back to reality.

The Canadian novelist’s home in Brooklyn, New York is near a hospital and during the month of April the sound of ambulances was constant.

"Any time you stopped to listen, you’d hear a siren. If you stayed up late enough or got up early enough, you’d see them pass by without sirens, just lights flashing down the street."

New York City has been one of the hotspots of the Covid-19 crisis, with more than 200,000 cases and over 21,000 deaths.

So, while for her family the lockdown that started in March has been “okay”  - none of her circle of loved ones have died of Covid-19 and she has spent much of her time with her four-year-old daughter working on her rooftop garden “oasis” - the horror has still reached them.

“There is this awareness of death all around us.”

Mandel is not the only panellist on the fourth episode of After The Virus who says the sounds of the pandemic got to her. Australian feminist thinker and writer Clementine Ford found it was ambulance sirens that affected her most in the first few weeks of the pandemic too.

“I had that wave of panic or the sense of something fundamental changing in our society.”

Instead of looking for a return to normalcy, Ford believes societal change is coming and should be welcomed.

“I do have that sense of not wanting to go back to exactly the way things were. I think that there are opportunities here to see what kind of society we do want to shape.”

Ford believes that some economic policies temporarily introduced because of the pandemic, such as housing the homeless, should be permanent.

“It’s become very clear to us that the money has always been there to do these things, it was just a lack of political will.”

Panellist Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, a former politician and former chief executive of Women’s Refuge who is now Whanau Ora’s North Island Commissioning Chair, believes the pandemic will force changes. She says when she asked for resources for vulnerable people in the past, the government told her to get in line. But the broad impact of the pandemic across society means more and different people have now become vulnerable.

“When (crises) impact on other sectors of society then something will happen. It’s not just the new wave of uncertainty. We already had a society that was greatly compromised and now we have got these thousands of people being added to that as well.”

Raukawa-Tait admits breaking some of the lockdown rules, calling the restrictions “very hard”. Māori were offended by restrictions on cultural practices involving physical contact and gatherings, she says. 

“In Māori culture you never isolate yourself because your family is your support. But we did it. I have to say that next time I doubt whether we will.”

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