Bay of Plenty Times

Family find laughter in lockdown blues

Videos posted when Covid hit still bring smiles

- Maryana Garcia

Laughter, happiness and a stronger family. These are three things Nathan Lewis believes he got out of the first Covid-19 lockdown three years ago.

Lewis, his wife Maria and their four children were in the Philippine­s on holiday when they first heard news of a “flu sort of thing” coming out of China.

“We started noticing it on the news. There were people in the airport with masks on,” Lewis remembers. “But we just sort of carried on.”

Days after the Lewis family returned to Tauranga, reality hit home.

On March 22 three years ago, just three days after the Bay of Plenty’s first Covid-19 case was discovered in Rotorua, a returning resident tested positive for the virus in Tauranga.

The next day, an alert level system was introduced to the country and, 48 hours later on March 25, New Zealand was ordered into lockdown.

Everyone was instructed to stay at home in their “bubble” unless they were essential workers or it was for essential reasons.

Covid-19 shook the health sector and, as new informatio­n flooded in, stress and anxiety about the new virus increased.

Hospitals implemente­d novisitor policies and created Covid19 wards. Movement within hospitals was controlled and non-clinical staff worked from home.

With schools closed for on-site learning, parents and teachers had to figure out how to educate kids online.

“Everyone was worried because the situation was so unknown,” Lewis said.

“I was a little bit worried. I kind of jumped into protection mode for the family.”

Lewis’ “protection mode” also had the aim of keeping everyone’s spirits up.

“It started with building a makeshift Kmart in the garage for my wife,” Lewis said.

“I posted a video about it [to social media] and tagged her in it. We got some good feedback and it kind of motivated me to start making more funny videos.”

Lewis said his family had always had a “bit of comedy” going on in their household.

“But it wasn’t until the lockdown that we started making and posting videos.”

Three years on the Lewis Bunch Antics Facebook page has more than 2000 followers and the family’s social media reach has expanded to other platforms, including Tiktok. “The main goal is to create some laughter and happiness,” Lewis said. “Plus we enjoy it.”

According to Lewis, the experience of filming the family’s pranks, jokes and even rainy-day activities has helped the family become “100 per cent” stronger.

“The lockdown definitely made me a better father,” he said.

“I learned how important it is to spend time with the kids. That was one positive thing that came out of it all.”

The experience also helped everyone in his family “come out of their shells”.

“All my kids are pretty confident and I think confidence is quite a strong trait to have.

“It’s about being yourself and not dwelling on what other people think.”

Lewis hoped his family’s videos would remind anyone who watched them that, while life brings adversity, it was important to stay positive.

“It was nice when we came out of lockdown and people said they’d been making videos of their families.

“We still get recognised in public sometimes.”

For the next year and a bit, the country would move between different restrictio­n levels, until it was thrust into another lockdown on August 17, 2021, this time for two weeks.

The Bay of Plenty managed to avoid the extended tight Alert Level 3 restrictio­ns that mainly affected Auckland for much of the remainder of 2021.

December 2, 2021, marked the end of the alert system, and the country moved to the Covid-19 Protection Framework, also known as the traffic light system, which remained in place until September 12 last year.

● Lockdown anniversar­y brings tough memories

"The lockdown definitely made me a better father. I learned how important it is to spend time with the kids." Nathan Lewis

Covid-19. The deadly, viral respirator­y disease that caused the whole world to come to a screeching halt — we are still suffering the effects of the whiplash.

There have been 6,823,199 deaths worldwide attributed to Covid as of writing this.

In New Zealand, 2586 people have died of it (or it was a contributi­ng factor).

Today marks the third anniversar­y of the first lockdown.

At 11.59pm on March 25, 2020, we became isolated not only from the rest of the world but from each other.

We were in Alert Level 4 and a National State of Emergency was declared.

Non-essential workplaces shut down.

I vividly remember TV news reports of a deserted Auckland CBD, with office workers heading home carrying desktop computers and monitors.

I did exactly the same thing. Kitchen tables, bedrooms, hobby rooms, and lounge rooms all became our workspaces.

Usually congested highways, motorways, and roads were empty.

If you weren’t considered essential you were confined to your home, allowed out for daily exercise, doctors’ visits or grocery shopping.

Our work colleagues were just faces on a Zoom call or voices at the other end of the phone.

Families were separated. Kiwis elsewhere on the globe were scrambling to get home before the borders snapped shut.

The daily 1pm briefings from the Parliament­ary pulpit became mustsee TV.

Nobody knew exactly what was going on but test, test, test we were told. Stay at least 2m away from anyone outside our bubble.

We complied. They were scary times for us.

But testing and isolation were the only tools we had to keep our country safe.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, the disease was taking hold.

Hospitals became overwhelme­d, mass graves were being dug. We watched on helplessly as overworked hospital staff battled day in and day out to save people.

“Stay at home,” they tearfully pleaded on their Tiktoks and Instagrams, with bruised faces caused by the PPE they were constantly wearing.

We were lucky, our country’s geographic­al isolation gave us a head start. We could watch how other countries responded and how we could do things.

During this time there were some highs and lows.

Little Armani-john was born on January 30, 2020, 15 weeks early and weighing 952 grams. He was still in hospital when lockdown happened.

His mum, Stacey Brell, had to leave her 8-week-old baby boy in the hospital, so she could care for her other children, while her partner had to work.

Brell had a heartwrenc­hing choice but knew her baby was in safe hands.

But it must have been so difficult not to be able to see him every day.

Today, Armani-john is still battling the effects of being born

"We complied. They were scary times for us."

prematurel­y, but he is thriving.

Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. It’s still in our community, it’s still infecting people.

However, because of the nationwide vaccinatio­n campaign which saw more than 95 per cent of the population immunised against Covid-19, we had another tool in our belt to fight the virus.

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves over the past three years.

We are still recovering but we now have the experience and a framework in place to keep us safe.

No one ever wants to see the return of lockdowns, but they kept us safe while we fought to keep the disease from taking hold.

It’s so good to see visitors coming back and things returning to normal.

We’re slowly trying to get back on our feet but it’s still a fight — in my view, this pandemic has changed the world forever.

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 ?? PHOTO / ANDREW WARNER ?? Lewis family (from left) mum Maria, Cooper, 5, Ethan, 12, and dad Nathan (front), Maizie 3, and Maia, 9 in April 2020.
PHOTO / ANDREW WARNER Lewis family (from left) mum Maria, Cooper, 5, Ethan, 12, and dad Nathan (front), Maizie 3, and Maia, 9 in April 2020.
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