Auckland airport on Sunday evening airport bathed in bright sunshine. Passengers only in a near-deserted terminal, the formalities brief and at arms length, boarding quick.
The protocols were reassuring. A temperature check and face masks where possible. One nervous passenger per row.
It filled up in Brisbane with repatriating Taiwanese. Surgical scrubs and face masks suggested that some were more prepared than others; an unwillingness to use touchscreens or accept refreshment indicated highly focused concerns.
At Taipei International Airport, the local English language paper explained that daily passenger numbers were down from 120,000 to less than 8,000, fewer than in the SARS epidemic, and set to fall further as Taiwan closed its doors to transit passengers.
But fortunately not before despatching the onward, empty flight to London. It’s been a long time since one could stretch across a row of Economy seats.
London’s Gatwick Airport made Auckland look busy. Public transport presented no risk of infringing the recommended 1.5 metre safe distance.
And the timing of return was exquisite. A few hours after hitting the sofa, Prime Minister, Boris addressed the nation to announce lockdown to try to manage the flow and peak of infection. People can only leave their homes for essential shopping and their daily choice of exercise. Other shops are shut. Gatherings of more than two people are banned.
The exemption for exercise feels well judged. Apart from sanity benefits, it puts a responsibility in the hands of the public.
Indeed, Johnson’s tone was closer to a request for commitment, than a command for obedience. Time will tell if this encourages broader compliance and fosters a greater willingness to bear and share burdens.
And the looser form of the regulation provides a potentially important measure of willingness to comply. The public response will inform policy makers in real time on how people’s moods are changing. Because they are changing – fast. And lockdown on this scale probably can’t last forever, and perhaps not for very long at all.
We may find the British government making regular adjustments – perhaps every few weeks – as it uses the latest information to try to balance a triad of objectives: slowing transmission; finding and implementing the least damaging and most effective public health protocols; and limiting the destruction of people’s livelihoods and lives.
The morning after Johnson’s sombre announcement dawned fine and quiet. Most of the few people out seemed to be complying. There were some hard characters giving the impression that they ignored rules for a living, more conspicuous without the camouflage of regular folks. Perhaps the police and revenue could clear some caseload with judicious roadblocks. One or two of the self-employed finishing off business – a shop front being carefully repainted; either a vote of confidence or compulsion to complete a long-postponed chore.
Londoners’ behaviour will no doubt evolve over the initial three week lockdown period. Monitoring this – over a wider stage than just the capital – and drawing the right conclusions will test the government’s political skills.
Because at this point, despite the extraordinary diversity of views on what is going to happen, pretty much everyone expects the Government to prescribe the framework.
But ultimately the decisions to be made and the work to be done in accordance with that framework will need to be made by millions of people, motivated by the needs of their families, the interests of their communities, and their own sense of what is fitting.