Sunday, June 26

Auckland’s lockdown has finally given me what I’ve always wanted: a license to snoop | Leni Ma’ia’i

Nine weeks after Tāmaki Makaurau’s confinement, having pushed the limits of baking, introspection, and backgammon, I started running.

No, not for any of the health benefits: running my size can’t be healthy; it’s an opportunity to go snooping. I’ve always liked sticking my nose into other people’s affairs, but society has repressed these impulses. Lockdown has finally given me the license to snoop.

Dressed in my too-tight shorts, I am one of many undercover agents in town, ready to attack each and every lockdown violation.

Today’s jog starts out better than I would have expected.

Eight teenagers come into view, face masks dangling from the handlebars, technicolor vapes are freely passed around, and a freckled-nosed teenager scoffs as if to say “what are you going to do about it?”

Well boy, you’ll find out soon.

These criminals violate the rules of the first step of level 3 of the city. Only two households can share a bubble. The two meter social distancing must be respected. You should wear face covers, unless you are doing yoga.

I write down the youngsters and move on.

Gray Lynn Park is first on my hit list. The puzzle of the rugby fields is the noisy stomach of the wealthy inner-western suburb, and on a sunny day like today, a guaranteed hotspot for foul play.

Three pairs of sportswear block the entrance, acceptably distanced but recklessly scratching their dogs. Do you know that Covid cases are increasing?

I rush past and am a bit disappointed by the scene in front of me. Most people, I grudgingly admit, at least seem to be within the rules. Two young lovers sit apart on a grassy shore, a void between them. Lonely neighbors walk in loops aimlessly. Groups of peers rejoice in separate picnic blankets, after weeks of not seeing each other.

Like me, these rule-abiding citizens seek Covid elimination. Even if the government is no longer on the same page.

But there is no way to escape my trained eyes or ears. I listen to the flurry of a conversation about “catching up at my house later.” You mean when we get out of this confinement in two weeks, a month, more? Are they in your bubble? No, I don’t think so, Carol.

I add them to my account and continue my heavy mission up the hill until I pass the weatherboard villas of the suburbs. I’ve trudged through the eerie downtown and am in the Grafton Domain, puffing and staring out at the city.

On a clear day from the Dominion, the eye can stretch across the Harbor Bridge (which is covered in a suspicious amount of traffic) to the far reaches of Auckland’s northern border. It is the fine line that separates the confinement of freedom, the social distancing of hugs and grandparents from their mokopuna.

Auckland is on an island. We have been in a new world that accepts Covid for two weeks and the finish line is no longer so clear.

Right in front of me I can see a sign from last weekend’s closing protests poking its head out from under the bush, saying “# free2beme.”

Behind him, in absolute relief, is the silhouette of the Auckland City Hospital. Distant shapes of doctors and nurses come and go in eager unison. They’re not freaking out yet, but they know it’s only a matter of time.

I open my phone to record the last flouters on the list. With an impressive 20 violations in just 8km, their criminal faces go straight to the ‘gram’, perhaps even the government compliance website.

I catch my face staring at me, sweaty and smug. Shit, I forgot my mask.

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