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A week in the life of an MP during the Covid-19 crisis

hamish

Saturday, March 21 and Sunday, March 22

The Government announced early Saturday afternoon anyone entering New Zealand from overseas would have to self-isolate for 14 days. After this announcement the true impact of how Covid-19 was going to hurt Queenstown and the tourism industry became clear. I spent the entire weekend on the phone at home in Queenstown, speaking to more than 100 different business owners and staff, mainly in the tourism sector, who were incredibly concerned about the implications. We had our fi rst confi rmed case here this weekend, which I was informed of this morning (Sunday) and it was made public at 2:30pm today. I began to wonder if this
would cause panic here in Queenstown or not. I asked the SDHB for a briefi ng to ensure all necessary measures had been put in place to protect our people. I received a call from the SDHB chief executive this afternoon who assured me everything possible was being done. Today we have a total of 66 cases of Covid-19.

 

Monday, March 23

We begin daily caucus calls and I start daily conversations with Simon Bridges and our tourism team about what is happening in Queenstown. I also begin daily calls with my staff to make sure everyone has the information available to pass back on to those who get in touch. The Prime Minister announces a full lockdown of New Zealand to start at 11:59pm on Wednesday and the border to shut to non-New Zealand residents and citizens. My gut-feeling from over the weekend tells me it is the right decision. At the same time, I think about how this will be the biggest economic shock to Queenstown that is ever seen. My concern for our people and our town sinks in. Concern for business owners who have spent years building up their business, often having to borrow against their homes. Concern for people who will lose their jobs with kids and large mortgages. Concern for our large migrant workforce who will be jobless and face difficulties getting home. These migrant workers are not eligible for assistance so I immediately fired off an email to the Minister of Immigration raising this issue and asking for assistance. Some may say we were too late in closing the border and moving to Alert Level 4. I support this Government in the decisions they made. The only way to break the chain of spread is to isolate. Today we had 102 cases.

 

Tuesday, March 24

People are stressed and we’re trying to keep calm and carry on. Most of the day is spent trying to assist businesses and employees trying to work out if they are an essential service or not. If you are part of the food production supply chain you are deemed essential and the overall reasoning was “if you can wait four weeks, it’s probably not essential.” It becomes clear some give and take is needed. Clutha-Southland is a very diverse electorate with over 40 small communities. So while some have supermarkets, others may have a small butcher who is not allowed to open meaning people have to travel half an hour to get their meat. Close to home here in Queenstown I was talking to owners and manages of businesses who employ in some cases hundreds of people who were trying incredibly hard to crunch numbers but were still having to lay off at least 50% of their staff, which in some cases was hundreds of people. This is completely different from the 1999 floods, SARS and the Global Financial Crisis where we only had a 10-20% downturn in tourism, not 100%. It was good to see only three or so people in the queue at the supermarket in Remarkables Park when doing my shop. Our cases increased to 155.

 

Wednesday, March 25

The last day before the lockdown. I dropped some food off to a local charity and spoke with several businesses to show them my support and lend an ear. I’m reassured by the Government they will look after people with visas, which is good for those thousands of people here in Queenstown who are on visas. In the past few days, I have heard from many visa holders who are jobless and can’t get back to their home countries due to border closures. I was pleased when after writing to the Minister of Immigration on Monday the Prime Minister acknowledged some help from Work and Income would be given to these workers. Today, we now have 205 cases of Covid-19.

 

Thursday, March 26

On the first day of lockdown. It was great to get out and go for a run and to see people observing the 2-metre rule. I feel for my wife who has to put up with me for at least an entire month. There are only about five hotels open here and it is strange working from the home office. A politicians bread and butter is being out there, meeting people and working for them. It hit home I’ll be home for the entire month and having to do the job from home is a different challenge. A normal sitting week I’m in Wellington Monday to Thursday. I’m hearing from many businesses who are trying to hold on to their staff, like many throughout New Zealand, but some are struggling. There’s some confusion about leaving the house – we all need to use common sense. Today we had more than 70 new cases, bringing the total to 283. Ten days can’t come soon enough when we hopefully start to see a decline.

 

Friday, March 27

Day two of the lockdown. I managed a nice walk from home to a river track close by. Today is spent helping around 100 different constituents including workers in Queenstown trying to get home to South America, helping a man get home from Christchurch due to an illness in the family and helping elderly who have lost their home help. I’m concerned for our elderly, many of whom already experience isolation, but this is a whole different ball game. We now have 368 cases of Covid-19.

 

It’s been a trying week but I’ve seen countless examples of our amazing community spirit. The Hayes restaurant donated all of their stock they hadn’t used to our Salvation Army. Can I finish by thanking our frontline essential workers who are keeping the country going. Our police, ambulance staff, firefighters, supermarket staff, pharmacists, the list goes on. It will be many weeks before we see tourists begin to trickle in to Queenstown. My fingers are crossed that we can ski this winter. Stay safe and stay home Queenstown.

Hamish Walker