With the relaxation of government rules on scanning, vaccine passes, gathering limits, and vaccine mandates, New Zealanders can theoretically get back to more normal patterns of social interaction. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Getting back together will involve significant challenges. The team of five million is no longer the united entity that it became during the early part of the pandemic. A change of government rules is unlikely to result in a herd-like change of behaviour across the population or heal the divisions that have emerged between people with opposing views and beliefs.

The traffic light system allows a greater degree of personal choice about how much individuals socialize than the previous alert levels. The red setting has allowed us to continue to see friends, attend social gatherings, dine out and go to bars. This hasn’t prevented hospitality venues from reporting devastating losses as many customers exercise caution and choose to stay away. This is not surprising when the peak of the wave saw over 20,000 new infections and multiple deaths per day, and public comments about the ‘mild’ effects of Omicron are balanced by warnings of potential serious illness and long-term effects.

The level of interaction and risk that individuals within family, friend, and workgroups find acceptable varies widely. This is likely to persist since daily case numbers are predicted to remain in the thousands even after the Omicron wave subsides. The recent relaxation of rules is adding to Covid anxiety amongst disabled and immunocompromised New Zealanders. For community organisations like Age Concern Covid anxiety and caution continue to impact the delivery of normal services and activities. A March 2022 survey of 450 older people conducted by Age Concern Wellington found that over two-thirds of participants were going out as little as possible, and that only 30% were attending social activities. Added to pandemic-related losses of volunteers this suggests that our road back to business as usual is likely to be bumpy.

Read the full blog from Age Concern New Zealand here.

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