Soldiering on

I’ve held off on commenting on more recent developments with the virus in Melbourne because, well, I was over it – as most people are. But now, as of last night, we’re in stage 4 lockdown, and it’s clear things have gone in the wrong direction.

Setting aside the personal inconvenience, I’m pretty philosophical about the whole thing. I still believe that we’ll get by this setback – I remain optimistic – but I understand equally that if that’s to happen, then draconian steps are required. And that’s where we’re at.

Things might not have been so draconian but for the sort of people who complain about draconian measures. One of the significant issues and major frustrations over the last month has been the numbers of people flouting the rules. Some of the call-outs have been staggering. Infectees are now visited at their home by the ADF to ensure they remain in isolation, but fully 25% of people have been missing when the army has called. They’re sick and infected people out and about infecting more people.

A fair amount of them is the utter ratbags we see on the news and posting libertarian and conspiracy nonsense to social media. They either refuse to believe that COVID is a real thing, or they refuse to comply with lockdown and mask-wearing because it impinges their civil rights – which they’ll read to you chapter and verse (and manage to miss the legal basis of it nonetheless). Victorians are heartily sick of these people. They’re selfish and entitled, and the fact they can so gleefully celebrate their dissent demonstrates how little they care for anyone else.

As we were told at that start of this, we’re all in this together. None of us enjoys it. Many are climbing the walls. We do it because we must: because we recognise it’s for the good of all. And because, if we don’t, then it’ll only get worse.

That’s unfortunately relevant to the other group who aren’t complying. These are the low-paid and casual workers, most of whom live in the less well off suburbs of Melbourne where the virus is most rampant. I have some sympathy for these people because they’re faced with the tough decision between isolating without income or going to work sick so they can get a wage. These are people with minimal resources and who need an income to put food on the table, pay the rent, and provide for their family.

This is the huge flaw in the government’s relief policy that was made clear to them on day one when they exempt casual workers from any support packages. Had they been provided with paid pandemic leave and able to isolate at home then I reckon 80% of the cases we now see would have been avoided. The state government has since stepped in to provide some support, but – incredibly – the federal government is still dragging its feet. This situation was wholly avoidable and for relatively little expense. It’s an example of things not being thought through clearly, which is excusable when you do it in a rush, but less so when they’ve had months to rectify it and had every economist in the land tell them they ought to.

Those suffering most from the second wave are in aged care facilities. Most of the deaths have come from residents tended by casual workers spreading the infection, and ultimately left to fend for themselves. I don’t know if it’s much of a surprise to anyone really as the deplorable state of our aged care system has been an open secret for years. This has exposed it to the hot media spotlight, and the government can no longer sweep it under the carpet. It really needs a post of its own. Suffice to say that so much of this is because of the mania for privatisation and flexible work conditions. Standards slip, and the authorities have little control. And people suffer.

I shouldn’t be complacent, but I live in an area where there’ve been few cases and far from the hotspots. I’m tempted to think that most of the neighbourhood here are good citizens and well aware of their responsibilities – but I also note that there’s no meat or veggies left in the supermarket when I visited this morning.

Like everyone – well, almost everyone – I’ve been wearing a mask for the last couple of weeks. Can’t say I enjoy it much. I never realised how much it would impede my breathing. And, naturally, it fogs up my glasses. Initially, I found it a strange experience. I felt enclosed and separate to the environment around me. My environment was in my mask, as if I was contained in a bubble. I’ve got used to it since and made other adjustments to manage it better. It’s like most things, eventually, you adapt – though I’m looking forward to a time when I can take the mask off, go out for a beer and travel beyond the border.

For now, we’re stuck. There’s a 5km travel limit and a curfew at 8pm. These are strange times, and you only have to look around you to see that with everyone in a mask. Who’d have ever imagined this? This is a surreal moment in history we won’t soon forget. I’m fascinated to see the art that comes out of it.

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