Have we stabilised?


I’ve been reading of people struggling with the challenges of being in lockdown (in all but name). Initially, I’m surprised and wonder if I should be feeling it more. In point of fact, I’m thriving, though it’s early days. In my case, it makes a difference being so busy. I’m flat-out from first to last and expect to remain so for several weeks. The days pass quickly.

Not that I’m only doing work. I take time to take my two scheduled walks daily and am now managing close to 7,000 paces every day. That’s bolstered by the bustling around I do in-between times, whether it be in cooking, or in the patches where I clean or organise. Like most people it seems, I’m catching up on the things that mostly get lost in the rush of living. Cleaning definitely falls into that category for me, but I’ve knuckled to it so keenly that I’ve even given the wooden cabinets a clean and polish with marveer. I’m also going through my filing cabinet to either dispose of or scan, the documents and files in it. The aim is to get rid of the filing cabinet altogether.

What might make it difficult for me in the longer term is that I live alone. I’m on the phone all day and sending messages here and there, but it’s not the same as warm human contact. I am self-reliant in that regard also, and perhaps too much so, so we’ll see how that pans out.

For others, I wonder what the particular issue is? Is it a sense of confinement? Is it the disconnection from standard routine? Is it missing colleagues and friends? Probably a bit of each, and more besides. Real challenges are being faced by thousands now, either for health or financial reasons. A friend, working from home, has had his hours reduced by a quarter and his salary with it. Many others have either been stood down or made redundant altogether.

Since I last wrote, the government has finally come to the party with a comprehensive wages subsidy policy. They’ve gone big, and though it’s late, it looks like it’s everything that it should be. It’ll make a real difference because thousands will have some job security now, and be able to continue living. Most importantly, it preserves some readiness for such a time when we come out of this.

There’s a long way to go, but you can’t help but wonder what happens when we’re through this. The government has adopted policies and measures ideologically foreign to them. Though they’ll be keen to reverse most of them, I figure some will be so entrenched in the public consciousness that it might be difficult. As I’ve said before, there’s opportunity to reset in this, on both the personal and national level. This is a wake-up call.

I’ll follow up on that another day, but in the meantime, I’m curious to see how the government pays for this – perhaps it’s time, and with a national justification now, to take the franking credits windfall off the table?

 

Go now


I suspect as this progresses, the days will begin to blur, and the distinctions between them fade. For the record, it’s Saturday. When I got up this morning, I did some work. My excuse is that there’s still a lot to be done – but it’s easy to sit in front of a monitor that hasn’t been switched off and get back to the job wearing a pair of tracksuit pants and a torn t-shirt.

I got up late, though. I turned the light off early last night because I needed the sleep, but when I woke this morning at the usual time, I felt unrested. I turned over again and for the next two hours slipped between drowsy, cosy, half-sleep, and the real thing. I got more out of those two hours than I did a night full of sleep.

My usual routine on Saturdays is to read the paper, catch-up for a coffee and a pastry with Cheeseboy maybe, then up to the shops for my weekly shopping. There’s no coffee happening these days, but I read the paper. There were things I needed at the shops, but I hesitated. Eventually, I went and got the necessary stuff – nothing for lockdown as such, but ingredients I needed for some recipes I planned to make this weekend (a beef stroganoff, a pot of tomato sauce). I got home, and I figured that’ll do me now. If I can – lockdown is imminent, I reckon – then I head up again in a week for the perishables, but that’s it. I’m playing safe.

I feel healthy still, though that’s no guarantee of anything. This thing is the real McCoy and lockdown needs to be announced. I think it should have happened a fortnight ago.

One day when we look back, the mistakes made that seem obvious now will be glaring then. The federal government responded early to the threat of C-19 by closing borders. That was the right thing to do and slowed the infection down. The time saved was wasted, though. Instead of acting decisively, the government dithered. At first, I don’t think they took it seriously enough (a mistake I made, though I quickly repented). Even though they’ve figured it out, even now, they’re conservative, as if afraid of what they might do, not understanding that to do nothing is much worse than doing something. Now is the time to go big.

Somehow, the government believed they could come out of this unscathed. That was their mistake. Had they acted quickly, they might have saved the patient by amputating at the knee. Instead, they went back, again and again, cutting here and there, while the infection continued to spread. Now the knee’s gone, and we’ll be lucky if the leg can be saved – but the operation has to be now.

That extends to the economic measures, which have been piecemeal, slow to enact, and not considered fully. The result is thousands of people lining up outside Centrelink offices in the middle of a pandemic. It’s almost funny.

I have much more faith in state premiers than I do in the federal leadership. I’m hard on Scomo, but I feel some pity for him – these are tough times, and he’s not up to it.

It’s pretty sad when someone like Boris Johnson makes you look bad – but the Brits, after being slow to act, have been bold. So too a bunch of other countries. In the meantime, Australia faces huge unemployment as systems crash. I agree the economy has to go into hibernation but to enable that you have to support business to retain workers, and landlords given support so that the jobless have a home to live in. Far better, I would have thought, to administer measures through existing payrolls and maintaining employment, than to send everyone to Centrelink.

Whatever that takes – reduce company tax rates, suspend state payroll tax for six months (Victoria have done this), offer wage subsidies as other countries have done, look at income tax options, as well as stamp duty, and so on.

Much better to go bigger than you need to than too small, because there is no other priority now.

I’m just a schmo in the suburbs. Another guy online with an opinion – but you don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to know that something has to be done, and done immediately.

Lead the way


I watched Scott Morrison in his press conference announcing updates to COVID-19 restrictions. For the first time in my life, I almost felt sorry for him.

Customarily Morrison comes across as a smug prick, with an unwelcome smirk on his face. Most of what he says and does it couched in political terms. He’s always trying to gain an advantage, as if the prime purpose isn’t the national good, but political gain. For me – unlike many others, obviously – he’s never come across as a convincing national leader. First and foremost he’s a political operator.

That remained true until about a week ago. Then he woke up, I think. He realised he was in the middle of a catastrophe and it was his job to do something about it. He was very late to that understanding, which explains why the response to date has been slow and hesitant.

Last night there was no smirk and no sign of being smug. Instead, he appeared almost vulnerable – the most human I’ve ever seen him. He was caught up in the biggest challenge this country has faced since the wars, and he knew it. He was verbose, as he tends to be, but gone was the political cant. Still, the message was vague.

I think one of the issues we have is about the strategy we should have adopted. All the talk is about flattening the curve – a phrase that will live on in the language long after this. The right strategy to achieve this is hard to know because, essentially, there’s a conflict between economic and physical health. Right now they’re almost at odds. The best way to curtail infection and save lives is basically to shut the economy down – a lockdown. That’s a harsh cure, and one the government has been pussyfooting around. Throughout, they’ve sought to compromise between the two poles.

Personally, I think that’s misguided and probably pointless. My view again is that you have to take the firmest measures and try and stop this thing in its tracks. That’ll save lives and if it means going into lockdown then so be it. Better a sharp shock than prolonged agony, which is what we face without decisive action.

We’re now where we should have been at three weeks ago. That’s three weeks lost, as well as extra lives ultimately, and it means the pain will likely extend longer. I’m sure tougher restrictions will be required, why not jump to them now? It’s this creeping, indecisive process that dilutes the confidence of people.

One thing I know from leading projects that you must be decisive – or at least, appear to be so. I know there’s a lot of conflicting advice in this, the most extreme of pressure environments, but this is not the time to equivocate. You’re not going to get it 100% right in such extreme situations, so don’t even think that, but if you are to err, err on the side of caution. It’s only human to have doubts, but in times like this, you can’t show it. What people want are leadership and certainty. They want firm resolutions and a set strategy. They want to trust you have this is in hand, and that’s not going to happen unless you’re out in front leading the way.

I think people are ready to do the right thing. There are many crying out for it. There’s a lot at stake. Now’s the time to be strong.

What next?


It’s probably a week since I last wrote and here as everywhere it’s been an eventful week.

I think it’s inevitable that we’ll be lockdown soon, but I think that was pretty clear a week ago, also. The difference is that the virus has spread so much more since then and finally our political leadership, and much of our community (not all), have woken up to it.

Unfortunately, the government here didn’t take the threat as seriously as it should, and so it didn’t prepare as good governance would suggest. As a result, we’re short on testing kits and protective wear. Doctors are screaming out for supplies that are very slow to arrive. It’s saying fuck all that we’re more progressed than the states (which fucked up big time), but we’re still far behind where we should be – in terms of testing, medical preparedness, isolation protocols, even common-sense practices such as screening at entry points. And well behind on policy.

I figure the government has been about 10 days behind the curve when it needed to be in front of it. We’ve been playing catch-up throughout, and it’ll cost lives. I’m almost certain they’ll declare a lockdown this week but had they done that even a week ago then much of the worst impacts might have been mitigated. The infection would have been much better contained, and the spread much less. Unfortunately, there’s an exponential factor in this which means the best we can hope for now is slowing it down – but we lost a significant advantage by not acting sooner.

To compound that has been the messaging, which has been pretty poor. Apparently, there’s now an information campaign going, but I’ve yet to see an add. There’s been little clear and definite advice, and the PM was still politicking about it last weekend. He’s one of the worst offenders. At a time when the critical nature of this virus had to be highlighted, he said he was off to the footy.

I used to think Australia did these things well, but not anymore. The combination of poor leadership/government and a public service decimated by political partisanship means there’s hardly anyone running the shop. The one exception is the premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews, who is firm and decisive and a very good communicator. Thankfully he’s my premier, so maybe we have a chance.

After working from home last Monday, I was back in the office for the rest of the week. The pattern is supposed to repeat this week, but I don’t expect to get back to the office again in the short term.

I’ve been crazy busy, almost to an unhealthy state. As of yesterday, I’d worked 13 days in a row, and many of those days for 10-12 hours. Typically I’d wake up at 7am and be on the phone, be on the go all day, and might have my final call at 11-12pm with India. I’ve almost given up on a decent sleep because my mind has been so busy with the challenges I had to overcome. I’m on the phone all day, or sending emails or messages, and racing up and down the stairs. I forget to eat and drink and have actually lost a few kilos in the last seven days. I’m thinking all the time, coming up with solutions, then workarounds when the technical gets in the way, coordinating people and seeking answers.

Realistically, I can’t go on much longer than this, but I don’t expect I have to. I hoped to be in a position to press the go button on Friday, but not quite there. I’m working this weekend, but not as much as last. We’re targeting a cutover tomorrow afternoon and should hit it.

In normal circumstances, we’d delay, but all this has been a rush, and I’d rather deploy in a managed scenario than be forced to do it in a hurry. Effectively, we’ll be making adjustments in the production version, but at least 350 people will have access to it, which means effectively that the business can continue in a work from home situation. I’m confident that 80% of what we plan will be in, and 100% of it by the time we need it. I can monitor and tweak before it hits the big time.

I’ll be relieved when it happens, but it has to work. I’ll be busy watching over and maintaining it for a while, but there’ll come a time when I can take a step back.

It’s a funny thing to say given the current situation, but I’ve earnt a fair bit of time off in lieu (ironic as I already have 7 weeks of accrued leave, will be working from home anyway, and can’t go anywhere). I need the time, though. As I mentioned, I’m starting to fray at the edges. Last night I felt like I hit the wall. I was in bed with the light-off by 9.30 and sleep until 7am – the best sleep I’ve had in months. I think once the job’s done there might be a bit of a collapse as I’ve been running on adrenalin. I’ll need to detox then because my head is full of this stuff and it needs to be cleaned out.

Apparently, I’m earning a lot of kudos with the bigwigs. They’re hanging on my progress, and I read echoes of my updates in their daily reports. This is ironic also. Not that I’d got around to documenting it here, but a couple of weeks ago we came to an agreement that I would get a promotion and pay rise by May. I’ve earned it even more now, but the reality is I might be lucky to keep my job if it all truly goes to shit.

For what it’s worth, I intend to self isolate when this job is done. I finally got some loo paper, and all I’m missing now is some tonic water to go with my gin. I ordered another monitor this morning so that I can work effectively with my work laptop at home. I’m just about ready to do it. For how long do you reckon? I think months, and what the world looks like after that I don’t know.

Waiting


There’s a movie from the fifties called On the Beach, based on the novel of the same name by Neville Shute, which is basically one of the first movies made about the end of the civilised world.

It stars Gregory Peck as a US submarine commander and set in my home town, Melbourne. Peck and his crew have been marooned here after a catastrophic war that left every inhabitant of the northern hemisphere dead. A cloud of radiation is slowly drifting south, and killing every living thing in its wake.

Life in Melbourne goes on. They watch and track as the cloud that’ll bring their death comes ever closer, encroaching upon the north of Australia, and coming ever nearer. People react in different ways, knowing a death they can’t escape is getting closer every day. Some go to the edge. They party hard or partake of extreme activities they’d have never considered before. Others fling themselves into relationships. Others again, unwilling to face the inevitable, take their own life.

It’s quite a good movie. Very interesting.

I recall it now because there’s a sense of that with COVID-19 encroaching upon us. It’s not as deadly as that, nothing is guaranteed, but there’s been the same kind of slow-motion, creeping observation of it, with little we can do to stop it.

Its epicentre was Wuhan in China, and slowly it’s radiated out from there, spreading further every day. It’s taken hold in some places, and in other places, it’s been beaten back to a degree. It’s far from contained, still spreading, and the worst is yet to come.

Though there are still only a few hundred cases here, it feels as if it’s finally reached us. I think that’s a general perception. Last weekend I was out for 11 hours in public eating and drinking at The Stokehouse and the Espy. I was surrounded by people and gave no thought to it. On Sunday I went to a 50th birthday party, and there were over 70 people there. As I told Donna this morning, lucky your party was last week – this week would be problematic. And, you know, if the party was tomorrow I reckon a good number wouldn’t come.

The NBA is suspended, and the Melbourne Grand Prix cancelled. A cricket match at the SCG last night played to empty stands. And from Monday all gatherings of over 500 people have been banned.

At the supermarket today it was chaos. A couple of weeks back it was eerie because there seemed so few people wandering the aisles, but it had the feeling of the calm after the storm had swept through emptying the shelves. Today there were people everywhere, and trollies filled to the brim, though many shelves were empty.

I bought what I could. It was all quite disturbing, even unsavoury. I scolded myself for not taking the opportunity last week to buy more when I could. I refused to buy into the panic though, out of pride and disdain. And so when I might have purchased more than a single bag of pasta or rice or a single tin of tomatoes, I stuck to just the one. I’ve not seen a roll of toilet paper for weeks, let alone been able to purchase one.

I’m in a reasonable position, nonetheless. I’m single so what I’ve got goes further, and after going hungry when I was broke, I’d got into the habit of buying reserves of things anyway. It means I have plenty of rice and pasta and sugar and butter. I have long life milk enough for a few weeks. I have coffee, meat in the freezer, as well as a few meals there ready to eat. I even have more than a dozen eggs and plenty of cheese of all sorts. Rigby’s dog food gets delivered, but still, I have ready to go. And just by chance, I’d stocked up on dunny paper the week before the paranoia hit, so I’m good there, too. For what it counts I’ve also got about 150 bottles of wine and maybe 20 stubbies of beer. I’m good enough.

On Monday we’ve been asked to work from home to trial our readiness for it. I figure by the end of the week, one way or another, it will become routine – and so it should. I think it’s sensible now to minimise the risk of infection in the hope that it halts the spread of it. Better to act sooner than later.

There’s a strange sensation in the air. A ran into friends as I was going to the shops this morning and we had a laugh at it, but we’re all caught up in it now because we must be. There’s a bunker mentality and a great sense of uncertainty. None of us has experienced anything like this before. What does it mean? What will happen? There’s a level of fear attached to it.

I can foresee a day soon when most places are shut and the streets near empty, but in every house huddled families keeping themselves occupied and isolated. Imagine that! And imagine what it must feel like to be one of those in the high-risk categories – the elderly and unwell. It must be terribly scary for them, and for their loved ones. I guess we all should be scared a little.

The latest panic


I went to bed last night expecting that I would go to work today. I woke this morning, and though better than 24 hours before was still blocked up and coughing, and I elected to remain home for another day. (No bad thing – I tend to return to work prematurely, at the first sign of recovery, but before I have recovered).

Though I stayed in bed for the first few hours of the day I had to get up and out of the place before noon. I had a job interview to attend that couldn’t be put off any longer.

The train is quiet at that time of day, late-morning. I sat by the window and looked out of it, listening to music. At Elsternwick, a woman sat in the seat opposite me wearing a face mask, which has become quite fashionable lately. I looked at her, wondering if she was wearing it to protect herself, or others. At the same time a Del Amitri was playing in my ears, Nothing Ever Happens, as if a reminder of the trivial absurdity of life; that everything that happens has happened before, more or less.

It seems to me that the reaction worldwide to the coronavirus – or COVID-19 (or whatever they call it now), verges on the hysterical. It leads the news bulletins every night. Maps highlight the inexorable spread of it. Chinese restaurants are being abandoned as if you might catch the virus from the special fried rice. Even sales of Corona beer have been affected, with 38% of Americans reportedly saying they’d give it a miss for fear of the virus (now we know the percentage of stupid Americans – doubtless Trump supporters).

Walk the streets and every twentieth person or so is wearing a mask. Mostly they’re Asian, but not all, and certainly not the woman sitting across from me today. I understand the precaution, and even purchased a mask myself the other week when picking up a prescription – but think I’d rather catch the virus than wear it in public.

The latest is panic buying. The sensible residents of my suburb have shunned the trend I’m happy to report, but not so elsewhere. I’m not sure what it is. Is it because of all this talk of self-isolation? Or is it from fear that the supply chain will break down so completely that staples will no longer be available? The result, seemingly, is supermarket shelves bear of tinned food and long-life milk, dry goods and hand sanitiser, and other supposed necessities, including toilet paper, apparently – how much dunny paper do you need?

I understand that it looks bad, but when it’s being highlighted so graphically every day, then it will. The virus has spread far and wide. Every day it expands further, and the death toll increases, but it’s not the bubonic plague.

I’m curious. What if the common cold was given the same coverage? What if the spread of it from one person to another, and from country to country, was reported to the same detail? I’m guessing the spread of it would appear much more alarming than this. Get the graphics department onto it, and it would look dire.

COVID-19 isn’t the common cold, it isn’t even the flu, but it’s not much worse than that. People die every year from the flu and hardly anyone bats an eyelid. It’s a known quantity. It takes the aged and the frail and the unhealthy – seemingly the same demographic COVID-19 is proving fatal to.

I don’t mean to play it down. It’s a health risk, and that’s magnified because there’s not yet a vaccine for it. Until we have that there’s reason for concern. It’s not an out and out killer though, and the bigger danger now is economic.

A combination of panic and the closing of borders have sent markets into a tailspin and the international supply chain into disarray. International travel is well down, and the tourism dollars that go with it. And in Oz it means that thousands of foreign students have been unable to return here to continue their studies.

It’s bad news everywhere, and not just because people are getting sick.

I expect this will go on for a bit longer and for the situation to become more critical. I’d be surprised if there isn’t a vaccine on the market within a month. The economic fallout will continue past that.

This is the new world we live in: climate change and pandemics. Get used to it.

The funny things is, I’m crook, and I’m coughing, and I’m only half-joking when I tell people, “it’s not the coronavirus”.

Steam-rolled by history


History moves pretty fast these days. I reckon that’s been the case for much of the last 150 years, but never as quick as it is now. I don’t know if we yet realise it, but I think maybe we’re living through watershed days. Things may never be the same again.

A month into 2020 and it’s like the news has been on fast-forward. Here in Australia, that’s been very much the case. I’ve said my piece on the bushfire crisis, but beyond that, there’s been systemic corruption revealed, and now the coronavirus. The coronavirus is something the whole world has to deal with, and I suspect it’s worse than being reported. China’s a secretive society and had they been able to keep this on the lowdown then they would have. The scale of the infection meant that they couldn’t, leading to a ripple effect across the world.

I just making a joke the other day how handy it might have been to invest in shares of companies making protective face masks. It’s their golden era right now. Until recently you’d see the odd person in the street wearing a mask, generally Asian, but that was it. I never really thought about them much, but then the smoke from the bushfires began choking the cities and they seemed a good idea. Now, with the coronavirus, they may well become a necessary protective measure. You see a lot more people in masks these days.

In the last few days, the Australian government have announced plans to quarantine the country from the threat of infection. Without all the facts, it’s hard to know what to think of it. I think some of the measures announced are necessary but delivered in the typical hamfisted style. It’s good to evacuate Australians from the epicentre in Wuhan, but then to announce evacuees would be charged for the privilege (since rescinded), and that they would be deposited on Christmas Island is deplorable. Now they’re banning non-citizens and non-residents from flying into Australia from China. Maybe this is necessary, but I don’t know if they’ve thought it through adequately. Seems to be a lot of loopholes, and I’m not sure the thousands of Chinese students due to return for study have been taken into consideration. It’s true, I’m a sceptic when it comes to this government – seems everything they do is rushed in conception and then sloppily executed.

For all that, I’m wary of the coronavirus. It’s my guess that the number of infected (and dead) has been under-reported by the Chinese government, and the rate of infection, and death from infection, quite possibly downplayed. It’s a very 21st-century condition, like SARS and the bird flu, evolved from animals and originating in China. In a country so heavily populated these conditions are more likely to erupt and to spread much quicker. It highlights that we can’t take chances anymore because viruses continue to evolve, and in a country like China where co-mingling of livestock in markets with people is commonplace then this will continue to happen. It seems the Chinese authorities have now woken up to that.

As I write this, Brexit is now official. I was watching the news as thousands of motley types gathered at midnight in London like it was new years eve, waiting for the clock to tick over and to be free of the EU. You have to wonder what they really think will happen now. I’m less optimistic than them. I think it’s a ruinous thing they’ve done to themselves, but that’s democracy. I met a Pom over Christmas who was all in favour of it. He seemed intelligent enough, an engineer who was impatient for the people’s vote to be enacted. I didn’t bother to debate the merits of the case because I didn’t want to get caught up in an argument. It’s his country. This, though, is history being made.

Speaking of history, cross the Atlantic and you have well-warranted impeachment proceedings against Trump go nowhere because democracy has failed. Like it is everywhere, there are few politicians of any ilk who put the interests of the people, and abstractions like justice, before their narrow political interests. To put it bluntly, most are in it for themselves. Trump epitomises that, and that’s why he was impeached – and he survives because the American congress is like that to. It’s stacked with Republicans more concerned with their own political future than they are of what’s right and wrong. America’s gone to the dogs.

American’s have the chance later in the year to put that right in the federal election. It’s interesting to watch how the Democratic primaries will play out after months and months of campaigning and jostling for position. If I was to vote I’d probably cast it for Elizabeth Warren, with Amy Klobuchar second – two women. I certainly wouldn’t back Biden, who I think is a nice bloke, but archaic as well as being old, and not quite having the right stuff. Ditto Buttigieg, who irritates me more than I can explain. He feels a bit plastic to me. He mouths platitudes and voices well-rounded phrases, none of which amount to much. I suspect he’s an opportunist without any firm beliefs unwilling to commit himself until he knows which way the winds blowing. Then there’s Bernie.

According to a lot of the polls, Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner. I like him, but I feel as if I’ve gone off him a bit lately. Maybe it’s his supporters, some of whom are pretty feral and fanatical – a very bad look. And I think he took a bit of the gloss off going after some of the other candidates, especially Warren. I think it undermines his persona of integrity. I believe in a lot of what he believes in, but think he should have been the candidate last time around. I wonder if he’s too old now and if he might not be a little too radical an option.

Needless to say, any of them are better than Trump. History indeed!