Corporate Public Relations Practitioner, Sharon Hunter, New Zealand

“I learned that you can skinny down life. You really don’t need all those clothes and shoes and all that stuff. My family and my career were always my first priorities. Suddenly, as for so many others, that career trajectory has disappeared and I have to think of what else I can do to make money to cover the basics. You need shelter, warmth, food and people… [We] relied on New Zealanders to pull together as one — we call it being in “one waka”– one canoe and pulling together, and we did.”

Sharon Hunter

Sharon is a native of New Zealand — a country she describes as “best known for its amazing natural beauty and its [fabulous] current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.”

Sharon describes both herself and Kiwi culture as “outward looking,” with a built-in desire to travel the world. She’s lived in a number of different locations but has always returned home, and acknowledges her good fortune for living in such a wonderful place. “We’ve all really realised how incredibly lucky we are in New Zealand now. Grateful. It is a little piece of paradise with no doubt.”

Sharon enjoys her job working as a corporate public relations practitioner, managing the reputations for both private and public companies — which includes large-scale projects and sorting issues, but speaks about how the entire economy in her country has been impacted by the pandemic and the measures the government has been taking to protect its people.

She talks about her experience quarantining in New Zealand, how her daily walks have become her savior as a social extrovert, how the financial repercussions on the economy have made an impact on her family, how the level four lockdown which the country implemented almost immediately restricted their movement within a two kilometer radius — and how this has ultimately created a safer space for the country — now that New Zealand has officially declared itself “COVID-free.”

Read more about Sharon’s COVID Chronicle, below:

The Important Things

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during quarantine/the COVID crisis?

“I can be described as an extreme extrovert, I’m fairly confident and outgoing and have always been that way since I was a small child. I’m generally friendly and happy and make friends easily and spend a lot of time socialising and travelling. I am fortunate enough to have a nice house but, before COVID-19 I was honestly rarely in it. I was there on some evenings, otherwise I was travelling, socialising, at the gym etc.

Suddenly, with seven weeks of lockdown, I was alone in my house with my animals. That was a big shock. Suddenly I was without all the external activities that were the majority of my life. I had to be my own entertainment and rely on my own resources to get me through. That was my biggest challenge.

The COVID-19 lockdown completely upended my way of life fairly completely. Week three was particularly challenging for an extrovert, without people contact and external activities. We’re still in a level of social distancing until near the end of June at the moment. What’s really challenging is the huge loss of jobs here, and finding work. I’ve consistently worked with no issue since I finished university — so this is a band new dynamic, alright. You come out of lockdown and you think: so, what’s next? How do I live, and survive?

We’ve been really fortunate with excellent government support. Those of us with mortgages like me have a six month mortgage holiday, which unfortunately still adds interest — but it certainly helps to hopefully avoid losing your house — that’s the aim here, in New Zealand: trying to get people back on their feet again.

We are really lucky with the support we have, but it’s going to get really, really hard… and people will have to make tough decisions with an estimated 250,000 job losses. That’s a big number in a country with five million people.”

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration?

“What was really important to me was getting out for daily exercise, rain or shine. I could see people then, at a social distance, and say “hello.” As an extrovert, it made me feel connected to the world, and to know that everyone else was going through similar things to me in this surreal, movie-like environment.

I couldn’t imagine what it was like for people in other countries, like China and Spain who weren’t allowed out for exercise and who were confined to apartments. Without that daily walk, outside my house every day, I think my mental health would have been challenged- so, enabling people to get out for exercise- within the rules is just a huge priority for physical and mental health. So many more people took up walking, running and cycling here. Those are excellent daily habits which we need to retain and stop having such a car dependent and sedentary lifestyle.

“My Burmese Cat Used to Accompany Me on My Runs and Walks”

I was pretty fit before lockdown — I did weights and martial arts so I was worried my fitness would go. It definitely did drop. Walking is good but it doesn’t give you top-level fitness. I’ve learned I should own a set of my own weights to keep up the muscle tone!

It was also absolutely wonderful not using a car during lockdown. My car got cobwebs on it! We need to use cars globally so much less and to walk and cycle much more. Cars have taken over our world and its so wrong.

What was also vital was that sense of community and all being in this together and working to get through it. NZ was pretty inspirational, globally in that respect. We Kiwis feel pretty proud of that, but we also feel very compassionate towards people in other countries who are suffering bad, particularly the USA, the UK, Italy, Brazil and India. We are outward looking people and non-insular.”

Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your priorities in life?

“I think I was used to having quite a lot of money, and doing and having what I wanted — and also sharing what I had in a material sense with my family for many years. My children got to travel widely, and I was always the person who very happily shared what I had. Now, there are few jobs and I will no longer have that money I used to have.

That’s a big chance which I and my family will need to get used to. They will understand and adapt, I’m sure but I will dislike not being able to help them in the same way. For me specifically, that limits the freedom I used to have to travel whenever and wherever I wanted to.

I guess I learned that you can skinny down life. You really don’t need all those clothes and shoes and all that stuff. My family and my career were always my first priorities. Suddenly, as for so many others, that career trajectory has disappeared and I have to think of what else I can do to make money to cover the basics. You need shelter, warmth, food and people.”

Where are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic? Who have you been quarantining with?

“I live in the family home, which I almost completely own — so I’m fortunate at almost being mortgage free, but I do have to find a way to complete the remaining, small bit of the mortgage. I quarantined by myself — although I’m an extreme extrovert, I’m also fiercely independent and love my own space.

My friends and family know this well and had no expectation that I would want anything different. Being set in a house with others all the time would have driven me madder!”

“Suddenly our worlds shrunk to tiny things… But it worked.”

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission?

“New Zealand has done really, really well (so far — you take nothing for granted in this situation!) and has been a model globally. We locked down really hard and early. Our borders were closed promptly and we went into Level 4 lockdown which meant we were allowed to go to the supermarket — one person per household — with social distancing and limited numbers in store.

We were allowed to go to pharmacies and also to take a daily walk or run or cycle but only in our local area — within 2 kms, for around three weeks. That was strange. Suddenly our worlds shrunk to tiny things. But it worked. New Zealand has a population of five million people and we have a total of 21 deaths. That’s pretty amazing. The communication we had was clear, consistent and simple fro understand for any audience.

Most of all we had an outstanding leader — who has been recognised globally, in this situation. Jacinda Ardern has been simply remarkable as has our Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. These two are our heroes here in New Zealand. Almost every day at 1 p.m. they fronted up to a Facebook live update for the public and a media conference. In addition, our Prime Minister also did ad-hoc FacebookLive brief with updates herself, to ensure that we all knew what we needed to do at a specific time.

The updates were factual, clear and empathetic. They relied on New Zealanders to pull together as one- we call it being in “one waka”- one canoe and pulling together and we did. Few of us wore masks in general, although we have quite a large asian population — we are a diverse country — which is attractive — and that population continued their practice in general of wearing masks.

We respected social distancing and learned to order groceries in, then in time we could online shop. We followed all instructions. It was very hard and it’s decimated our tourism and hospitality sectors, but there is no economy without the health of a country’s people. New Zealand isn’t a particularly materialistic country in general — so that helped, we feel lucky having a very beautiful country and excellent food and wine and a relaxed atmosphere.”

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“Being an extrovert and not being shy (which is actually very unusual for a Kiwi- were generally like our native bird- shy and reserved) I’ve been comfortable sharing the reality of ups and downs with my friends on Facebook. Talking to my children every day has really helped! Being to in the garden and sun has helped and, as I’ve said, that daily walk was a huge mood booster and kept me fit.

Getting lost in a book really helped as I like adventure and being transported to another world. Talking to my close friends and sharing note also really helped keep my spirits up. Tuning into New Zealand’s daily Facebook live update also provided a sense of community and we’re all in this weird situation together, camaraderie.”

“New Zealand isn’t a particularly materialistic country in general — so that helped, we feel lucky having a very beautiful country and excellent food and wine and a relaxed atmosphere.”

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future

“Yes! Our family was due to travel to London for my daughter’s wedding on the 25th of April. That got postponed due to COVID-19. We have no idea when we the wedding will be now at this stage. Maybe at the same time next year. It’s such a day to day situation situation that we just don’t know. We raised a glass to my daughter and her partner on the 25th of April. They’ve both been really good about the whole thing.

I’m used to going to see my daughter in London and then travelling with in Europe with her once a year. I feel so lucky we went to Morocco together at the end of last year just before this hit. I was determined to go and I’m so glad we did. It’s going to be domestic travel for 2020 I reckon and hopefully we can travel internationally again next year.

I have a terrible travel bug and that has gone absolutely nowhere. Travelling and seeing other countries and how people are living is just a critical part of my life. Apart from my house, that’s where I prefer to spend my money on experiences in life, so it’s been a big impact on me and on my family…

“My daughter and her partner, in London in lockdown.”

It was great to have the Women in travel Facebook Group — that also kept me going. I learned such a lot about other countries and what people were experiencing in so many different ways. I think we all did. It was a big help during this time to have this site, and it made us feel more connected and not so alone.”

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