4.2 Editor's Pick
August 29, 2021

Postcards From The Plague: Is Australia Reaching a Tipping Point?

2021 hasn’t made a lot of sense here in Australia. 

The demon we thought we had outsmarted kicked in the back door while we were snoozing. Now, it’s inside. Growing. Screaming at us through ambulance sirens. Despite our terror, there is no “flight” and we cannot “fight.” Planes are grounded; the enemy is a ghost. This is our home, but for now, all we can do is hide from the intruder.

In New South Wales alone, eight million of us have been restricted to our units, mansions, or share houses for more than 10 weeks. The case numbers keep rising, so we’re facing at least another 10. Fun is cancelled. 

Apart from a few punchy protestors, most Australians have accepted that a personal sacrifice is needed in order to beat this thing. But if this is “winning,” it sure feels like a loss. There is evident desperation, fury, paralysis, and monotony—Sydney has never been so barren and sterile. Some days, it seems as if we’ve surrendered everything except our health. 

Incredibly, half the nation’s people have agreed to be on house arrest for an indefinite period of time. It’s an absurd solution to an absurd problem.  

The results are equally bizarre. Anti-vaxxers are punching horses. Cops are tackling musclemen to the ground to enforce social distancing. We’re endlessly told to get a vaccine that is unavailable to many, particularly the indigenous community. The army has moved onto the streets of Sydney while our leaders are arguing over COVID-postive poo found in sewage testing.

On top of the absurdity is the paranoia. It rises in tandem with daily case numbers (11, 29, 55, 108, 190, 270, 433, 806, and upward) with today’s number of positive cases being 1,035. Other states and territories are closing their borders. The virus is revving its engine. We were told by our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, that “it’s not a race” when the vaccine rollout fell behind and consequently, Australia’s response lagged behind much of the world.

Breathing in public has become a real risk and, if unmasked, a potential threat. Every second person wears it below their nose anyway, so a trip to the supermarket feels like running through no-man’s-land. Is this really happening? Could I actually catch my death in the dairy section of Aldi? 

Our leaders have the faces of slimy, stunned catfish. They flap about making half-promises they forget the following day. Details are replaced with catchphrases. Journalists let them off the hook. This seafood is going off. 

We didn’t get enough vaccines and the Prime Minister can’t explain why. Then we imposed the lockdown too late. Next, we’ll open too early. With clowns in charge, all we will keep getting is pies in the face.

Of course, once you wipe away the whipped cream and take a clear look at this thing, you can allow yourself to be inspired by what is an incredible coordinated effort by some people doing their best—nurses, Uber drivers, contact tracers, paramedics, cops, cleaners, chemists, virologists, and truckies. Spare a thought for the supermarket staff who are facing a deranged, exhausted public—day in and day out. All must be saluted. 

Meanwhile, millions of us are striving to follow every new (or changing) rule and regulation under the hardest circumstances. Eating outdoors has been criminalised. Neighbours report each other to the police. Careers and businesses have dissolved. Parents wish they were only exhausted—it’s something else entirely now. While some families or relationships may be fraying from overexposure, many of us are suffering in total isolation, separated from others by fear, or bad timing, or preexisting conditions.

The final mind game to conquer in this eye poke of a year is learning to surf the polluted waves of misinformation. Someone, somewhere, puts the questions in your head. Bill Gates made the Super-Virus? In conjunction with the Chinese? And Fauci is the bad guy? But it’s really only just the flu? People will tell you, with a straight face, that hospital staff (who trained their entire lives to heal people) have uniformly decided to commit mass murder by tricking us into taking poisonous vaccines.“What about the peer-reviewed papers proving they’re safe?” you ask? “Fake,” they reply, admitting they haven’t read them. 

Other folks on your Facebook feed are claiming it’s all a hoax; that the pandemic is a Troy Horse used to snatch away our freedom. It’s something that is quite the insult to your brave cousin who has been risking it all to save COVID-19 patients at the ER. When you mention these facts to this kind of Facebooker, they are quick to point out that they are, in effect, smarter than an immunologist. Then you ask them which peer-reviewed medical papers they have read. “F*ck off,” they type, just before you block them (or they block you). Next week, you see the same guy breathing fire at a “freedom rally.” Absurdity spews absurdity.

Perhaps we’ll get to the end of 2021 and realise that, actually, this was the year everything started to make sense. Finally, the age of consequence—the ultimate teacher.

Of course, defunding our education system for decades would lead to a population with an aggressive distrust of that which it doesn’t understand. Virology and vaccine development are complex. Many Australians, through no fault of their own, aren’t equipped to grasp it, hence the fear. Politicians and bad faith actors exploit this to their benefit.  

Allowing cynical and corrupt politicians to dominate our state and national government would eventually lead to a life or death situation. The major parties won’t act on climate change either. Our Environment Minister is currently appealing a ruling that she must protect Australian children from climate harm.

Also, it’s no surprise that the Australian Defence Force are deployed in Western Sydney, where a multicultural working class have borne the brunt of the infections, while the Great Gatsbys of the Eastern Suburbs are using lockdown as an opportunity to guzzle their way through opulent wine collections. The virus loves inequality because the poor can’t afford to self-isolate. We’re all a lot poorer than we were two years ago. Property prices keep rising to unprecedented levels. The Australian class war has been racking up casualties for decades, but now Covid has armed one side with superior defences while our Indigenous population is left scrambling for shelter. 

If we look hard enough at this surreal picture on this postcard, it begins to explain itself. We’re stuck in this quagmire because of whom we have let ourselves become, and who we voted for, well before the pandemic arrived on our shores.

Australians must heed these harsh lessons and pull something useful from the wreckage. If we don’t strive for a fairer, kinder reality, we’ll return to the old one. That would truly be a sign of a deep and permanent sickness.

Sorry this isn’t the postcard you were expecting from Sydney; it isn’t the one we wanted to send, but at least, finally, we’re being honest. The truth is staring us in the face—and it is no longer wearing a mask.

 

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