Living with Covid in Samoa?

My ongoing #lockdownDiary of random observations and fiapoto thoughts! From my privileged position of being able to lock down with my teenager, both of us working/schooling from home, while Darren goes to work at Young Steel.

Samoa locks down for two weeks and goes from one community Covid case to 2000+. Either we are doing lockdown wrong, or lockdowns don’t work. Or is it that if we DIDN’T lock down, we would have 20,000 cases by now?

The vaccination drive intensifies. Long lines and crowded tents at vaccination centers. Some are masked. Others aren’t. Many only have flimsy cloth masks that do next to nothing to stop Omicron. Especially when they wear them UNDERNEATH their nose. Health staff are masked, shielded and covered in their PPE gear from head to toe. It’s sweltering hot work. For them keeping safe from Covid means dehydration and possible heatstroke?

My mother is 81 and hasn’t had her booster shot yet. She won’t go in though because it’s too full. “I might get Covid when I go there.”

Savaii shows us how it’s done. Drive through vaccinations and testing posts. Limited exposure for all.

Frontline workers camp at the hospital and at NEOC and FESA sites. To avoid taking Covid home to their families. Nurses in the Covid ward haven’t seen their families for more than a month? Are they getting extra pay for this?

An elderly man goes to a district hospital, trouble breathing. He tests positive for Covid and a nurse gives him oxygen. Outside. Because ‘there’s no isolation rooms here for Covid patients.’ A photo goes up on social media of an old man, huddled by a security hut with an oxygen canister, in the rain. Is this what living with Covid looks like in Samoa?

My new unhealthy, unproductive habit is waking up every hour after midnight to check if they have released the latest Covid case numbers.

The government gives the country Covid situational updates that are 3 or 4 or 5 days behind. In the absence of reliable regular information, rumors and whispers thrive. Two children have died with Covid. The morgue is full. Prisoners are dying, so many of them. Instead of 15 deaths, there’s really more than forty…

I have a nightmare that I am a teacher again, in an assembly, a closed hall, 300 students NO MASKS, and they’re all singing. And me silently screaming, NO! GET ME OUTTA HERE. THIS IS A COVID TRAP. What will happen when schools open again here?

Every morning I call my parents for a lockdown-checkin. “Good morning this is your daily wellness check!”
My mother says – I’m bored.
Me, brightly – Well it’s better being bored than deathly ill and digging mass graves.
My mother is not encouraged – Thanks a lot for that. I’m going to hang up now.

Lockdown lifts for banks and money transfer businesses to open. Long lines clog up the street and people wait for hours to get money. Then dash to clog up grocery stores so they can buy food before the curfew starts again. What even is social distancing when you need money to buy food to survive?

My brother has Covid. He isolates in his house. The worry is for our elderly parents who live next door to him. Mum takes him food and he tells her not to. Stay away. Stay safe. In the night she hears him coughing and she goes to check on him. Stands outside the window. “Are you alright? Are you vomiting? We can hear you coughing!” He says, I’m fine. Go away please. Go back to your house!

A grandson is exposed to a Covid positive friend. He isolates. But his grandmother still calls him to do chores. ‘Come hang up the washing. Take out the rubbish. Sweep the floor.’ They tell her he’s supposed to isolate. She says, ‘Oh it’s alright. I gave him hand sanitizer.’ The messaging for two years has been about handwashing and sanitizing surfaces. Not that Covid is airborne.

They tell us there’s a baby sick with Covid in the intensive care unit. Baby is in a coma. On a ventilator. We pray for the baby and their family. I remember when my children were babies. Tiny fragile humans in incubators in New Zealand. How afraid we were for them. How love choked us as we watched over them. I am sad for this baby and his parents.

When I see people not wearing their mask properly, I want to smash them over the head with a chair. #realTalk

When people say, ‘Oh Covid was always going to get to Samoa anyway. It’s just a mild illness. Take some Panadol. Everyone will be fine” – I also want to smash them over the head with a chair. #moreRealTalk

Bella’s teacher starts their Zoom class with a cheery, “Good morning! How is everyone? Does anyone have Covid today?” #TheNewNormal

Bella has this lockdown school thing all figured out. Teachers send out the week’s work on Monday. She disappears into my home office for most of the day and then reappears to announce, HA! I’VE FINISHED ALL THE ASSIGNMENTS FOR EVERY SUBJECT. NOW I GET THE REST OF THE WEEK OFF! How are other children coping I wonder? Those with no computer, limited internet access, no quiet space to do schoolwork in?

I go to the wholesale supplier. When I tell them I will carry the box myself to my car, the men scoff. “Why you worry for? Koviti is just a small ma’i.” One offers what he imagines is reassurance, “I was positive test for covid last week and look at me, I’m fine!” Another adds, “My brother has covid and he’s still going to work.” I am beginning to understand why Samoa has shot to thousands of cases even though the country is in lockdown…

We see Cabinet Ministers on the news. Inspecting district hospitals. Key ministers arent wearing masks. Big smiles for the camera as they pose with (masked and covered) health workers. Do they think they are covid untouchable? Superman? Too cool for Covid? What are they trying to show us? That they’re not scared of a little virus?

Government takes Samoa out of Level 3 lockdown. The Prime Minister tells the country that we have to live with Covid. That yes, people will get sick and some will die. Later in her speech, she says we must all make sacrifices. Perhaps it’s meant to be unifying and inspirational. But I want to know, who is supposed to make the ultimate sacrifice? Because I surely don’t want it to be my child. My parents. My husband. I mean, who does?! Is this the Hunger Games? I volunteer as tribute? Screw that.

Our family decides we will stay in lockdown, regardless of what level the government takes the country to. Things we will still NOT be doing – going to ANY gatherings, dining out anywhere, team sports, gaming/nightclubs/bingo, and no school for Bella.

Writing has been difficult. Anxiety about everything is messing with my focus. It’s hard to get swept away by my novel when reality is so pressing. I’m tempted to put it all on hold for a while ie quit for a few months. But first, I will try with adjusted goals. Instead of 2k words daily target, am going for 250. JUST WRITE A FEW DAMMIT 😒
Some words are better than none.

We have a mask policy for our staff. But when they go to work on a building project, they are the only people there wearing masks. And the client says we must be cowards and stupid, ‘Why are you wearing masks for? Covid is nothing bad. Fefevale!’

Buses rumble and wheeze by on the road, packed with passengers. Sitting on each other, busting out of open windows. A few with masks, many without.

I go to the grocery store. There are bottles of hand sanitizer at the entranceway and a security guard checks my vaccination certificate. Everyone inside is masked. I am relieved and reassured.

Another day. I go to another store for groceries. Nobody checks for masks or vaccinations. There are small children playing outside. Even though lockdown rules say that no-one under twelve years old is allowed out in public. Inside, a woman with a mask hanging off one ear, is touching all the bread. Squeezing loaves, checking for freshness? People are pushing and crowding each other. I never go back to that store.

Samoa gets donations of Rapid Antigen Tests from donor partner countries. Thank you NZ, Australia, China etc. Government doesn’t give any test kits to the private sector. But hey, we still have to open.

We spend several thousand dollars to buy Rapid Antigen Tests. A box from New Zealand that comes on air freight. And some bought in bulk from the local chemist until our order arrives. We test our employees twice a week for Covid. And upload the results to the Ministry of Health website. We provide transport for our workshop team so they don’t have to ride the bus. Masks and sanitizer.

One business owner, seeing what we are doing to Covid safeguard our team, tells us we are wasting money and resources. “You should let all your workers get sick. They’ll only be off a few days. Then everyone can keep working and they’ll all be finished with the ma’i and you won’t have to worry anymore.” We tell him people can get Covid many times. He is unconvinced.

I order vegetables using the Maua App. Bread and snacks from Pelerose Mart. The driver wears a mask and leaves the box outside the gate. I wear a mask to get the order. I spray the groceries with disinfectant. Bella complains because then the food tastes like disinfectant. I am glad we have a debit card and can do online orders. What about people who can’t buy online?

We eat bananas from our trees in the backyard. The trees that Darren planted two years ago when the pandemic first began and Prime Minister Tuilaepa was on TV every day telling everyone to grow crops. ‘How about you?’ he asked the reporter interviewing him. ‘Have you planted any taro? Any fa’i?”

I post on Facebook about our banana trees. Randoms turn it into a political post and start arguing about FAST and HRPP. On my post about bananas. I am annoyed. WE HAVE COVID IN SAMOA. NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR POLITICAL SHIT. I want to spray them with Mortein.

Darren makes saka fa’i for our dinner. We eat them with a can of tuna and it is very good. Ripe bananas are the only fruit Bella will eat so I am extra thankful. When the yellow bananas are spotted brown with overripeness, I make banana cake. Cookies. And they are very good. We have so many bunches of bananas that Darren takes some to the office to share with the staff.

A truck driver for a delivery to our workshop has Covid. But his boss helpfully explains to us, “He’s the only one available who knows how to drive that truck. But don’t worry I told him to stay far away from you.” I hear of many people who keep going to work when they have Covid because they need the money for their families to survive.

My tooth cracks. It hurts. I rub salt on it and ignore it. Go to the dental clinic now when there’s Covid everywhere? No thanks. If I ignore my broken tooth then it will go away. (Kinda like Covid?)

The foreman asks one of the workers, how’s your family? The young man cries. His grandmother in Savaii is very ill with Covid. The aiga is worried. Also his father and two little nieces have Covid.

Bella’s Science teacher has Covid. And she’s doing Zoom tutorials with them and checking in to see ‘how are you coping? Do you need some help with planning your study schedule?’ Bella is thoughtful quiet now because ‘my teacher has covid and she’s still worrying about us’. Good teachers are a blessing.

Darren clears a “track” for us to run around the garden. (Ok so he runs and I run…and walk…and run!) It’s not as enjoyable as going out on the road, but hey, my 30min 3km was more interesting than walking in circles inside my living room.

I have a new strategy for getting the teenager to do all her chores promptly before lunchtime. I hide her phone and only reveal it when the chores list is done. Its magical. Only 9.43am and shes already vacuumed, scrubbed toilets, cleared and done the dishes, now folding laundry. I am brilliant.

I take my Dad for a drive. He’s 83 and quite frail with Alzheimers. We really really dont want him to get Covid. Options for exciting outings during a pandemic are limited. We are double masked up and all the car windows down for good ventilation. Dad doesn’t like wearing a mask. “There’s nobody here. Why do we have to wear one?” I remind him that hello, I’m here and I might have Covid germs! So he leaves his mask on.

Today is Thursday the 12th of May. They tell us there have been 23 Covid related deaths. So far. 23 people who would still be here if not for Covid, if not for the decision that Samoa will ‘live with Covid. 23 families mourning the loss of their loved one.

What will tomorrow bring as we continue living with Covid?

To be continued.