NNew Zealanders are usually pragmatic people who do not put a lot of stock in compliance with the rules. But for almost two weeks in national restrictive measures aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19, bored and anxious communities have developed an obsession with a single gray area in closing rules: going out to exercise.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern activate four week lockdown on 25 March which requires New Zealanders to stay in their homes unless they access essential services – such as food or medical assistance – or head outside to get fresh air.
But unlike some European countries, which have set limits on how far a person can roam while walking, a new guideline issued to New Zealanders last week suggested outdoor activities be allowed in “easily accessible” locations from one’s home, provided it was impossible to putting them in danger or at risk of needing help.
That does not suggest the right distance for what is considered “easily accessible”, which makes some New Zealanders disappointed.
“This partly increases the anxiety that causes us to become truly rule-bound because we see that rule as something that can protect us,” said Dougal Sutherland, manager of clinical practice at Victoria University’s psychology school. “If you think about a highly activated combat or escape mechanism, anyone who is deemed violating it could harm us.”
Those who break the rules by taking part in prohibited activities have included a The surfer is pictured flipping the bird at police officers on the Auckland coast on Sunday, and people jump off the Queenstown bridge to the river below, which was humiliated in a Facebook post by the local council.
But some people out walking or cycling while apparently complying with the guidelines also caused public outrage: a woman said she and her family abused while walking along the Auckland coast by a man who doesn’t believe they all live in the same house (they do), and photos of other people on the street have been posted on social media.
A Twitter user said that they had put a sign by the reserve at the end of their road, telling those who had been driving there to exercise to return because they were not accepted. Cycling and running groups on social media have poured out countless words to debate how many kilometers are a reasonable distance from home, while others post on Facebook with their brands that leave home for recreation, even for sightseeing, as “selfish” and “stupid”.
“Just because you can’t mean that you have to do it,” said a commentator in a popular way New Zealand Facebook group. Roads must be taken “inside your block. Not a leisurely walk through a park or a garden, “said another.
Others point to comments at officials’ daily briefings where Ardern and others praise the benefits of getting fresh air.
The requirement to “stay local” does not mean “to roam five or six miles,” Mike Bush, police commissioner, told a news conference last week. But he did not add a reasonable distance. Apart from questions almost every day from reporters who submit different scenarios – often very specific – where someone might go outside, Ardern and other officials have refused to give exact figures as to how far one must travel on foot or bike from home them to exercise.
But many on social media claim to have heard the special rules of distance; after posting a satirical April Fool’s Day on the Kiwiblog website claiming that a distance of 500 meters from the house would be upheld by the police, the claim was spread by some as a fact.
Sutherland said people can become “really rigid in the interpretation of their rules”, when anxious, stick to mentioning certain numbers or limits as providing “a sense of security”.
“We tend to look for information that fits our view of the current situation,” he said, adding that there was also “a matter of jealousy …‘ If I don’t do it, why should they be allowed? “
A cycling lawyer said those who were cycling – an activity which is still permitted – came for certain harassment.
“I have heard many reports about more people and vehicles going and fighting and doing what we call a penalty pass, going too close to you when you are cycling,” said Patrick Morgan of Cycling Action Network. “This is intended to punish someone for riding a bicycle. It is dangerous and scary and illegal. “
A member of the Auckland-based network, Paul Baron, wrote on Facebook that he had “stolen harassment” three times a week about the fact that he was cycling, including when out with his children. And the health minister, David Clark, also came to criticize when his car was seen parked in a mountain bike lane near his home, even though he did not appear to violate regulations. He was later stripped of his partner’s finance minister’s portfolio and downgraded after the cabinet appeared, he also drove his family 20 km to the coast during the closure.
Some fitness enthusiasts have completely avoided outdoor activities by imitating men in France who do it running a marathon on his balcony last month. More than 300 New Zealanders registered to run marathons around their homes on weekends, posting updates, photos and videos of the hundreds of rounds they took from their gardens.
Sutherland said that as time went on, and public enthusiasm began to blaze, it would be more difficult for officials to ensure New Zealand followed lockdown rules. But for now, some people have more time on their hands than usual, and combined with endless access to social media and an increased sense of vigilance, it can prove a strong mix.
“It’s like your neighbor is retired and the curtains keep twitching every time someone passes by,” he said. “We all stand by the curtain.”
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