Monday 13 April 2020

The Covid Chronicles #4

I confess I was a little nervous about our return to Sydney.

During our road trip, Mr Books and I enjoyed a great deal of natural isolation as we traversed long stretches of lonely highways and byways. All the small country towns were taking the whole social distancing thing seriously, with markings on the floor so people didn't stand too close together in shops. The restaurants and cafes that had chosen to stay open with takeaway only menus had tables set up at the front door, so you could order and pay, then step right away to wait for your meal/coffee and to let the next person come up. In one small town pharmacy I heard a lovely young sales assistant pleading with an elderly customer to go home and to call them for anything and they would then home deliver. It was a bittersweet moment. The elderly customer appeared confused about the whole thing. Her weekly trip to the chemist was obviously an important social outing. She didn't want to phone in an order, she wanted the human contact. Zoom was not on her radar.

Now there's a brand name I never knew until a few weeks ago. Zoom.
And now it's everywhere. Even my mum is Zooming.

But back to Sydney and my growing nervousness.

As we got closer and closer to Sydney we kept seeing and hearing on the news about how Sydney-siders were failing at the whole social distancing thing. From young people crowding onto Bondi Beach to backpackers partying in hostels and bus shelters. B19 had also been telling us about how busy our local high street still was. I didn't feel ready to deal with so many people being so close together. But seeing how happy B19 was to see us home safe and sound made it all worthwhile.

As the start of the Australia-wide lockdown loomed large, the comments on social media began to change.

There were the militant #staythef*ckathome hashtag warriors who upset all the essential workers who couldn't stay at home, even if they wanted to. Then people with eating disorders popped up asking everyone to stop talking about how fat they were going to get by the time this lockdown finished. Finally, the work-from-home people got upset about the folks who championed how to spend your time in lockdown to better yourself - learn a new language, play an instrument, bake bread or create a podcast!

The weekend we arrived home (the last weekend in March), was the weekend that the NSW lockdown was announced, beginning Monday night. The new rules looked like this:
The only lawful reasons to leave the house are to work, study, to shop for food or other essential items, access medical care or exercise alone or with one other person.
We have been told theses rules could stay in place for 90 days.

We did a bigger than normal grocery shop to stock up on essentials, so that we wouldn't have to pop into the supermarket every day, like we had become accustomed to over the years. We also arranged a visit with B22 and his GF in case we couldn't see them again for a while. It was weird preparing for something that we had never experienced before, especially as the messaging about what we could or couldn't do, changed almost on a daily basis. We wanted to be prepared and to take it seriously, but there was also that typical Aussie disdain or wariness towards authority - let's not go overboard here mate! We'll be alright. Surely all these rules don't actually apply to me!

I had to laugh at a man, probably not much older than me, at the supermarket that first night home. The staff had just put circles on the floor at the registers so we could line up social distance-style. This man could NOT stand on the circle. He stood near it, around, in front of it, behind it, but never on it. No-one was going to tell him where he could stand!

Now we were back in Sydney with B19 and seeing for ourselves how city-siders were coping with the change, we could see straight away that there were a fewer cars on the road. A number of shops were closed (some, sadly, for good) and in the case of restaurants and cafes, only open for takeaway, but other than that, things looked the same as when we went away two weeks earlier.

Many elderly folk seemed to be struggling to understand what was happening. We noticed them out and about in the country AND in the city. I'm not sure if the message hadn't got through, if they didn't care or if felt like they had no other options. Certainly the stories on the news still felt surreal and 'out there', rather than right here and now.

You can see on the graph above, how the last weekend in March was our last big spike of new confirmed cases. This may be skewed by our strict testing criteria, but since community transmission has been low all along, it seems like it's fairly indicative of the actual numbers. The Ruby Princess cruise ship has accounted for a significant number of these cases. They have now had 16 passenger deaths and over 600 confirmed cases, including members of the crew, still stranded on the ship. There were also about 900 international passengers who jumped on board planes back home, not realising that they could be carrying the virus back with them. A criminal investigation is underway to find out why nearly 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark (and disperse all over Australia) even though people on board clearly had Coronavirus-like symptoms.

Mr Books and I, are essentially, optimistic and positive souls. I'm more introverted than Mr Books. We both enjoy spending time with our friends and family, out and about doing stuff but we're also happy being cosy at home. We're independent, self-sufficient creatures, capable of finding ways to amuse ourselves and fill our days. The idea of a lengthy lockdown didn't particularly phase us, but that first day, Monday the 30th March, was still weird. Very weird.

The Covid Chronicles #1
The Covid Chronicles #2
The Covid Chronicles #3


  1. Are you saying that there is still a cruise ship docked w/ crew and people aboard right now (today)? If so, I think I would have jumped overboard.

    1. Yes. 3 weeks ago the Ruby Princess docked a couple of days earlier than scheduled to beat the ban on cruise ships about to take effect. According to the reports I've read, the management told the 2500+ passengers and the docking officials that they had no coronavirus cases on board, although a number of passengers were tested as they had flu-like symptons. Despite this, all the passengers were allowed to disembark and told to self-isolate for 14 days. Except most of them didn't.

      Roughly two-thirds were Australian citizens who all had to travel home to whichever state or territory they called home. A number seem to have be South Australian judging by the number of Ruby related deaths there in the past few days. But about 900 of the passengers were international travellers - mostly US and Canadian citizens. They all jumped on a plane home without realising they could be spreading the virus. The numbers are sketchy as the management of the Ruby Princess have not been particularly forthcoming.

      There is also heated discussion between the NSW government and the Federal government about who knew what, when and who made the decision to let the passengers leave.

      I'm not sure why the Ruby Princess left Sydney Harbour with her 1000 crew members still on board. It may have been an agreed upon quarantine time. For 2 weeks the ship anchored off NSW, saying they couldn't sail back to America in case someone got too sick for the medical team on the ship to deal with. They were finally allowed into Port Kembla a few days ago, due to the number of sick crew.

      I believe there are also a number of cruise ships off WA, who don't want to make the long cruise back to their country of origin for similar reasons. It's a bit of mess really. I would think that the mental health of all these people would be questionable by now.

      I struggle a lot with the lack of human kindness that surrounds this story, but at the same time, I'm not sure where or how we would safely house thousands of potentially sick people for two weeks or more on the mainland.

  2. Enjoyed your account of your return home. It's taken us all a very short time to get used to lockdown it seems to me, though Darwin where I am is probably more easy going than the rest of Australia. I went shopping today in the CBD. Very few people at 4.30pm but the bookshop was open (I bought a Patrick White). Next week I have a load home to Perth. Will be interesting crossing back into WA. Bill

    1. It is weird how pre-covid feels like a lifetime ago now. My book club discussed a Brexit book tonight (my first Zoom meeting). When we picked it 2 mnths ago, it felt very topical. Tonight is seemed almost unimportant and irrelevant.
      Have a safe trip home. I hope the border crossings are smooth.

  3. That conversation in the pharmacy was so close to the one I heard in our local pharmacy a few weeks ago. The very nice but firm assistant told an elderly man he shouldnt be there, she would drop his prescription off to his house. This is my exercise he said. To which she replied, not in here it's not. There are germs here, it;s not safe. Go home and I don't want to see you in here again. Poor guy shuffled off quite dejected.

    1. It's heart breaking isn't it. Makes you realise how many lonely people there are in the world.

  4. I have liked your Chronicles ... good to get various views from around the globe. Things in Canada here are still shutdown & most people are at home. Though it surprises me too some folks haven't really clued in .... and you see them meandering around the groceries oblivious to any danger or distance. (Middle age men just wandering?) You sort of wonder what are they on. Anyways I am no militant #staythef*ckhome person (those people alarmed me too at first) ... but you just wonder when you see folks oblivious .... to what's on the news day & night.

    1. Around here, it's tradies, in particular, who are very disdainful of the whole thing. I've been mocked for walking off the pavement onto the side of the road to go by people out walking. Some people reign in their children, but most just let them wander, run, ride, scoot around oblivious to others as per usual. Our grocery store is a disgrace. I'm not sure how we didn't become a hotbed of contagion - just lucky the community transmission rate is so low here, I guess.


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