My pandemic life and thoughts

October has arrived. If this was a normal year, the AFL grand final would be less than a week old. After the mighty MCG climax, there’d be a lull across the city. The NRL grand final, probably this weekend, might be a heart-stopper for a few Melbournians, especially if the Storm are involved. But that will die down too, and Melbourne will begin to turn its attention to summer sport, mainly cricket, with the Boxing Day test the main drawcard, and tennis, when the leading players in the world arrive at various times to acclimatise for the Australian Open in mid January.

But not this year. The AFL season crept in shyly, almost reluctantly. The finals are about to commence, and a small spike of interest is evident. There is nothing yet in the air about cricket. The Big Bash League might have been under way by now. Certainly Sheffield Shield and interstate ODIs would have begun. Weekend cricket would be all over the place. But nothing seems to be happening. As for tennis, no one seems to know if, when or how the Australian Open will occur. It is as if we have been catapulted into a different universe, one of isolation, in which television provides the only window to the world outside, we work from home, stay at home on Friday and Saturday evenings, have not touched our going-out clothes for weeks or even months, have not seen in the flesh for ages our friends and many of our loved ones, avoid strangers, carry hand sanitisers, rely on the internet for practically all our entertainment and socialising.

Being house-bound in winter ain’t all that bad. Home is arguably the best place to be in bone-chilling weather. But not now. Spring is in the air and on the ground along streets and in gardens and parks, and daylight saving is one sleep away. Winter chills have been shaken off, woollies and thick jackets mothballed, and the outdoors is beckoning. Three days ago I walked in nearby Wilson Botanic Park. It was crowded with walkers. Plenty of kids too, running around and yelling as they always do. The masks quite rightly worn by everyone didn’t take anything away from the glorious Spring ambience.

Masks are a small price to pay for the freedom to enjoy the outdoors in good health. The virus is also out and about. Some say that masks protect better than the best vaccines possible, because the virus is mutating, like other coronaviruses. Maybe it is becoming more contagious, as ever increasing new infections in other parts of the world are suggesting.

The virus is surging in other countries. In some it is a second wave. In others, the first wave is still alive and well. People are contracting the virus in their thousands every day. A good number of them are falling ill, some seriously, a few are dying. God knows how many will be physically impaired for years after they recover. Leaders are struggling, wringing their hands. Economic imperatives are stopping them from doing what needs to be done to bring the numbers right down. They are looking at what Dan Andrews is doing here in Victoria, Australia. The numbers threatened to run away and he imposed what was called a state of disaster, virtually imprisoning us all in our homes. He has made mistakes, copped (and still copping) flak from his opponents in the political arena and the media. But the lockdown has worked. You have to give him that. The number of new infections is down to single figures. Soon more restrictions will be lifted and controls put in place to manage new infections. You can control the spread of this virus only when the number of daily new infections, especially those acquired from transmissions within the community, is down to a trickle, or zero. it is not possible to control this virus when thousands of new infections are occurring every day. Everyone knows this. One can only hope someone comes up with a vaccine. That wait could be long. Some say the virus will eventually die out. Wishing it away is not a strategy.

When all the restrictions are lifted and we are allowed to go about our business as normal, spread of the virus will still have to be controlled. We will have to wear masks when we go out and get tested for covid-19 when we feel unwell and stay at home, for a fortnight at least if we test positive. This could impoverish part-time casual workers. There needs to be a special type of covid-19 sick leave to which everyone in the workforce is entitled. If you are sick and found to be covid-19 positive, the government pays you to stay at home. Simple as that. And you don’t lose your job when you recover. So, no penalty whatsoever for falling ill with covid-19. And if contact tracing reveals that you contracted it in your workplace, it has to be shut down for a little while. This is going to be difficult. Authorities will have to move in rapidly to cordon off and isolate a place where a cluster has been detected. Testing will need to be regular and mandatory in workplaces and schools and universities. People may have to be tested at the entrances to public events. There will have to be some sort of screening, I think, especially for indoor events. Life is going to be different for older, unwell people. Their relatives and friends will have to be careful around them.

I don’t want to catch the virus. My physical health is precious. But I accept that the responsibility for taking necessary precautions lies with me.

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