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Bubble Power

In economic terms a ‘bubble’ has the connotation of being something short lived and when ‘burst’ producing negative outcomes.  In the context of New Zealand’s move to eliminate COVID-19, bubbles now mean a place of safety and mini communities staying strong and supporting each other says Director of The Selwyn Institute Hilda Johnson-Bogaerts.

“Traditionally the concept of ‘living in a bubble’ had somewhat negative nuances of being content in one’s own world and unaffected by what is outside of it. Interestingly, they have a long history of representing the fragility of life. In the current pandemic, however, there are clear benefits to ‘bubbling’ in this way.  Like many changes in the current world new concepts come out of existing memes.  Changing shape and meaning in a very fluid time.” 

University of Auckland Associate Professor Dr Siouxsie Wiles describes herself as a microbiologist and bioluminescence enthusiast.  But to many now she is “that pink-haired science lady” who is helping New Zealanders understand the implications of the pandemic. She is the initiator of the ‘bubble’ concept that has now been adopted as an analogy for being safe and protected at home. 

Siouxsie Wiles explains:  “if it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives”.

Science says the way to stop the virus in its tracks is to deal with any exponential spread.  That means breaking the chains of transmission. That’s the purpose of isolating people with the virus and identifying all the people they have been in contact with and who may potentially be infected – what is referred to as contact tracing.”

Everyone has people in their lives that they see regularly or depend on. Think about who lives in your home, and who is essential in each person's life; this includes family and friends and people who visit for fundamental reasons, like personal care or support workers. All the people you interact with regularly are part of your bubble.

New Zealand Age Concern chief executive Stephanie Clare time at home provides a great opportunity to reconnect with family, friends and the elderly.

"This is a bubble of joy - let's stop thinking of this bubble as terrifying.  It's important to remember that under level four protocol, it's mandatory that New Zealanders only have physical contact with those they live with. This means socialising with friends and family outside the home is prohibited.”

“If your household needs to stay at home and hibernate, it is essential to think about keeping everyone in your bubble safe, healthy and in touch. Talk to everyone in your household and make a list of the essential people in your life, day or week.” 

For some the concept of ‘lock down’ is akin to some sort of prison sentence.  Think of it in another way.  An opportunity creatively, and safely, to be a key part of bubble building for New Zealand. 

For those over 70, the challenges of remaining in a bubble and, for health reasons, staying inside can add an extra element of stress to the situation. Countering that Kiwis are known for reaching out to assist those in need which is evident with helpful neighbours looking after others.      

Having 70 as a ‘cut off’ may seem arbitrary but overseas research provides some guidance and reasoning.

The most comprehensive estimates to date of elderly people’s elevated risk of serious illness and death from the new coronavirus: Covid-19 kills an estimated 13.4% of patients 80 and older, compared to 1.25% of those in their 50s and 0.3% of those in their 40s.

The sharpest divide came at age 70. Although 4% of patients in their 60s died, more than twice that, or 8.6%, of those in their 70s did, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London and his colleagues estimated in their paper[1], published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. In Italy, however, a 102 year old lady was discharged from hospital after recovering from the virus.


[1] Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis, The Lancet 2019