We’re back under curfew and heavy restrictions in Australia
I wrote a few months ago that the pandemic was coming to an end. I was wrong.
As I type these words from Melbourne, Australia, my family and I face some of the harshest lockdown restrictions anywhere in the world. We have a nightly curfew in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in an effort to stop the invisible war raging in our streets, shopping centers, and homes. Australia was hailed as flattening the curve. We appeared to beat Covid. Then it all went wrong — a bungled hotel quarantine system for international travelers laced with a sex scandal became the start of the virus reentering the state of Victoria and creating community transmission that spread quickly.
Yesterday, things got personal. A family friend had to shut down their hair salon. Why? All businesses that are deemed nonessential must close. Someone close to me faces the real possibility of not being able to put food on the table. To some, the pandemic seems silly, or not a big deal — until it hits your family. Then you realize that whether you are a passive income genius, a CEO, a sanitation worker, or a nurse on the front line, we’re all hurting.
A second lockdown here in Melbourne feels like a nightmare. I wake up each day and find it surreal. I can only go outside once per day for an hour of exercise. The state regulations require me to wear a face mask if I go outside my home. There are police and military in the streets and in beautiful natural settings like the Yarra River. They’re positioned there to ensure people are wearing face masks and to ask them why they are out. If a person’s answer is not one of the four reasons we’re allowed to leave home — to provide care, get to a medical appointment, go food shopping, or exercise for one hour — then officials are instructed to issue hefty fines of up to $5,000. On a bad day, you can see videos on the news of the police exerting their new powers and tackling anti-maskers or curfew-breakers to the ground in order to arrest them. You see birds chirping and people in military outfits right next to them. The contrast is bizarre — it’s as though we’re at war.
Australia was hailed as flattening the curve. We appeared to beat Covid. Then it all went wrong.
Some days feel hopeless.
The number of new cases is only going up. The death rate has spiked. The hardest part to watch is what’s happening in the nursing homes. Families are not allowed in. Yet the virus still found a way in. Most of our current daily death toll comes from nursing homes. Many of the elderly have been moved to hospitals or private facilities to protect them.
The hardest part for me: I can’t see my nana, who is about to turn 100 years old. I’m beginning to think I may never see her again. Once you’re more than a century old, life becomes vastly shorter. This pandemic could rage for a while longer, separating me from the woman I most wish to talk with right now — specifically about lessons learned from world wars and the Great Depression.
I find myself calling my parents and brother a lot more. Sometimes I dial their number and I don’t even know why — there’s no particular reason, I just feel compelled. We can’t see each other. It’s likely Christmas will be canceled as nobody wants to bring the virus to anyone else’s front door and welcome it in on such a special occasion. Family looks different when your hometown is labeled “a state of disaster.” How did my beloved home become a disaster zone?
Then there’s the panic-buying and food shortages. I never imagined I’d worry about food running out. But I do. My girlfriend and I have become doomsday preppers — we hoard food. We’re told not to by the government, but then you get to the supermarket and shelves are empty.
My days in Melbourne feel nothing like last year. Going to our local beach is now more satisfying than imagining an around-the-world trip. My expectations have gotten smaller. A takeaway coffee feels like a massive treat.
Even my daily goals have gotten smaller. It takes me longer in the morning to get started. I have to nap throughout the day to manage the extra stress weighing down my skinny shoulders that haven’t been to a gym since March. To make it to the end of a day and not feel down is a huge win.
The threat of unemployment ravages through the stories I read on my news feed each day. Whenever I speak to a friend or colleague via video chat, the conversation quickly turns to unemployment. Why? Businesses are being forced to close. I work in B2B sales in the technology industry. When I pick up the phone to a customer or a prospect, you can hear it in their voice. They are scared. They don’t want to make a decision about anything because nobody knows where Melbourne will be in a week, let alone next financial year. Planning for business is impossible.
A second lockdown here in Melbourne feels like a nightmare. I wake up each day and find it surreal. I can only go outside once per day for one hour of exercise.
Many of my friends are realizing they didn’t put enough money away from the good times to fund the tough times. And if you can barely survive the day, how the heck are you going to make a decision like whether to buy a home right now? You can’t do it. So people aren’t buying properties. Selling your home is a last resort. But the banks are hinting that with so many people in record amounts of debt, home sales may soon be necessary.
No matter which way you turn in this second lockdown, things are challenging. It didn’t become real to me until recently — as my girlfriend celebrated her 30th birthday. I wasn’t able to buy a cake (for virus spreading reasons) and wanted to do something nice for her. We decided to take a trip to the beach to escape the house.
The lockdown rules stated that going for a drive within Melbourne was legal as long as we stayed in the car. Halfway into our drive to experience freedom, the freeway began to slow. Four lanes merged into one: a police roadblock. I pulled up to the line of police officers and found a friendly one.
“Where are you off to, sir?”
“I’m heading to the beach for a drive and won’t be leaving my car, officer.”
“That’s not deemed essential travel. My advice would be to head straight home. When you arrive at your beach destination, there will be more police cars patrolling the area. You will likely be stopped again and the chance of them letting you off is almost zero. Only essential travel is allowed.”
We decided to proceed with caution. We drove to the ocean lookout and parked the car. Within minutes, a police car slowly approached. I was on the edge of my seat. They kept driving. Minutes later, another did the same. Going to the toilet or opening the boot seemed like running across a battlefield while soldiers were shooting at you. We opted to risk neither.
The moment away from home was beautiful. We watched the ocean and the huge waves, dreaming of the day we could again experience the freedom we’re accustomed to.
The first lockdown required us to have hope. This second one requires faith in humanity. Having an optimistic view of the world right now is everything. Some days I get lost in my selfish thoughts of wanting to eat a burger inside a warm restaurant. On other days, I feel like we’re all in this together.