Photo essay: Christchurch in lockdown

Quiet streets, little foot traffic, police patrols – Christchurch has an easy reference point for the national shutdown. David Williams reports.

“Deserted,” calls a woman walking near the closed gate of Christchurch Botanic Gardens. “It’s like the earthquakes all over again.”

The first morning of the Covid-19-related national shutdown had an eerie, but not unfamiliar, feel in central Christchurch.

This time the ground wasn’t shaking. This time the enemy was a virus. Despite that, few wore masks.

Christchurch's Colombo St, dwarfed by the Port Hills, is deserted. Photo: David Williams

Not everyone was happy.

A driver stopped her van on the Moorhouse Ave overbridge to yell at your correspondent: “Do you have a permit to say you can be out on the road?”

I didn’t, I said, but I was a member of the media and where she was parked was dangerous and she should drive on. “Good on you mate,” she said with a glare.

A police officer patrols Worcester St, the quake-damaged Anglican Cathedral in the background. Photo: David Williams

The police weren’t so rude. A foot patrol stopped me to ask what I was doing, and to see my work ID. Another photographer snapped the exchange.

Earlier, in City Mall, where the tram tracks were occupied by workers emptying rubbish bins, a policeman called: “Take your photos and get home, eh?” He added: “It’s a bit eerie, isn’t it?”

Rubbish collection in City Mall. Photo: David Williams

The morning “rush” wasn’t as busy on Brougham St, but still had its fair share of traffic, especially trucks.

Also noticeable were police cars and motorcycles, fire trucks, ambulances, and Nurse Maude cars. Four-wheel-drives for 1 News and Newshub also searched for stories.

Hagley Park’s wide paths were busy with walkers, cyclists, runners and chuffed-looking dogs. Runners kept a polite distance.

Hagley Park was still popular with runners, cyclists. Photo: David Williams

A cyclist counter near the hospital – a point of smugness for the lycra-clad commuter – had only ticked over to a paltry 267 by 9.30am.

Supermarket car parks were relatively quiet and there were no queues to enter.

No need for panic-buying today – although that was true of any day this week.

A shopper emerges from central Christchurch's Pak n' Save. Photo: David Williams

At a pedestrian island on Bealey Ave, where Papanui Rd becomes Victoria St, we talk to Vicki Bretherton, the manager of the 26-suite Hotel Montreal.

The business ministry, MBIE, has ruled accommodation taking care of in-house guests as an essential service. She’s still got a handful of guests, she says.

“Mainly people that are trying to get back to their respective countries. And obviously quite concerned because they want to get home and they just don’t know when their respective flights are going to be getting them away.”

Private boys' school Christ's College is closed to all but boarders. Photo: David Williams

She was concerned for her staff, some of whom have babies, are single parents, or working holidaymakers.

But thanks to the Government wage subsidy they’ll be paid for the next 12 weeks, regardless of whether they’re at work or not.

(Her staff will be provided a letter today explaining they’re part of an essential service and they’re on the way to or from work.)

A deserted Bealey Ave, looking east. Photo: David Williams

There’s still a lot to do at the hotel, Bretherton says.

“I’m just making sure that I take care of my own mental wellbeing, and the last couple of days I haven’t been able to get out for a walk and the gym’s shut, so I thought, right, I’ll do it in the morning and go to work.”

It’s about 9am and she’s been out for an hour or so. There were a few walkers in Hagley Park, she says, but a surprising amount of traffic.

Overall, she’s impressed with how seriously the city is taking the national shutdown – especially compared to what’s she’s seeing from the United Kingdom on BBC News.

A relatively quiet Moorhouse Ave in Christchurch this morning. Photo: David Williams 

“Well done, Christchurch.”

Thick mist made walking through the park quite eerie this morning, Bretherton says.

“And now the sun’s come up so it’s going to be a lovely day. May the whole four weeks be beautiful weather like this.”

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