Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not the conclusion, the two-word cliché before the credits roll. Rather, this is a ruminating post, an introspection, a moment to pause. Twenty nineteen has been a very different year. In Australia, natural calamities kicked off the year. Tourist spots in the hinterlands were ravaged. Cows and poultry were decimated. Produce thinned. In the aftermath, people all over the coast started wearing masks. Meanwhile, some towns were bereft of downpours for ages. When the rain finally arrived, it came in torrents. For some Aussies, life as they knew it would not be the same.
Just as the nation thought that they could move forward from these tragedies, enter the pandemic. At first, the outbreak was foreign to us; it happened elsewhere. As our neighbours reported more cases, we grew more concerned. Suddenly, governments had started taking measures. Borders closing, flights cancelled, quarantine enacted…this was fact becoming the bread and butter. Nations responded variedly to this contagion. There were those who took a hard-line approach – countries like New Zealand and Singapore – and saved their constituents from further harm. Others such as Spain and Italy acted too late and the body count piled up. Cases were piling up; the World Health Organisation declared the Coronavirus as a pandemic. When the first fatality was reported here in Australia, people went nuts for toilet paper. It became the earliest scalp in the supermarket. Australia took a different tack, starting with Level 1 restrictions, which was elevated to Level 2 a mere two days later. We have been on Level 4 restrictions for a while now.
If you’re brave enough to venture outside, one look will reveal that we live in a primitive time. For starters, there are few people actually outside. They’ve been pushed to burrow like wombats and you can tell that they’ve got the message. The two-person rule is still enforced until further notice. There’s hardly a hair or tail outside. Restaurants are operating on a take-away and delivery basis only. The dining experience has been radically altered. Those shops you frequent? They’re probably close. The lack of potential customers has forced those ‘We’re closed’ signs. Instead of fitting clothes, you’ll just have to browse online. Moreover, with the measures, shops have a limit on the number of clients at any time. In addition, the lockdown has forced the closure of pubs, bars, clubs and hotels. Cinemagoers found out one day that the movies are suspended for now. These businesses have struggled to stay afloat with the loss of clientele.
The library was yet another scalp, with most repositories closed temporarily since March. Some patrons hoarded books, magazines and DVDs in anticipation of the lockdown. Others were left to dent their own bookshelves. Furthermore, the sales downturn has already caused many businesses to shut down. Employees of stores and companies both small and large have been furloughed or, in some cases, let go. You only have to look at Virgin Australia, one half of Australia’s air duopoly, which went into voluntary administration. Across Sydney, roads, landmarks, and malls are deserted. Pictures of the vacant Opera House and Harbour Bridge are making waves. Beachgoers have been the face of resisting social distancing. Shots of a packed Bondi Beach (after the restrictions) made headlines around the world. Recently, ANZAC Day has had a very contrasting look. Temporarily gone are the huge crowds in dawn services across the country. Instead, servicemen were trumpeting outside their homes in the morning. On a similar note, places of worship have also been closed.
Aussies and Sport
Of course, Aussies love their sport: whether it’s guzzling beer while following the NRL or finetuning their spinning technique while ogling the Ashes. However, the lockdown has suspended all play. That means no more cricket, no more swimming, and no more tennis for now. This is on a worldwide scale; take the rescheduled Olympics as exhibit A. The ATP (tennis), PGA (golf), FIFA (soccer), and all four major sports in the US, have halted play. Having no expectations has become the new normal in sport; even the news section has very little to report. On a positive note, the NRL has announced an ambitious 28 May target for a season restart. In the middle of the shuffle, they lost their CEO. If they were to do so right now, they would be playing on empty stadiums.
Bucking the trend
On the brighter side, supermarkets remain open to serve us. During the early days of the lockdown, they had to place limits on what each person could buy. For instance, only one pack of toilet paper and two cups of instant noodles were allowed. Hand sanitiser, liquid hand wash, pasta and canned food were other items in high demand and thus restricted. However, with more stock and demand gradually easing, they have started to remove these restrictions. Like all open stores, customers have to adhere to a 1.5 metre distance while queueing. Pharmacies, surgeries, and hospitals are likewise open. However, not all medical professionals are available. Some beaches have also re-opened but there are still strict guidelines to obey. Through all this, Sydney became a town of masks. Whatever your background, people were sporting them.
Some people have gone so far as calling this the Apocalypse. The empty streets, closed shops, inability to travel or eat out have all reinforced this assertion. The all-important vaccine may take months or years to materialise. While the sharp decline in new cases here is bullish, we cannot be complacent. Forget international travel for now, as it will take a while. Some states have already eased restrictions and some borders are beginning to open. We can take a few lessons from the current outbreak. When everything was fine, we may have taken the small things for granted. With the lockdown, we’ve learned to appreciate some of them more. Sometimes, the measures work both ways, as Venice exhibited. Less tourists mean less pollution and the waterways are much clearer. However, the absence of tourists has meant that generations-old businesses are fast facing extinction.
Even with all the uncertainty, we can count ourselves lucky. A wise man told me last month that there were eleven thousand new cases in the US. That was the tally for one day. More than any other nation, America was devastated. In New York alone, over twenty thousand people have perished from the virus. COVID-19 does not discriminate; rich or poor, healthy or not, tall or short, ageing or younger. While older people are more prone and more likely to succumb, even infants or teenagers are not immune. Supremely fit athletes have been reported to get infected, and so have the British Prime Minister as well as the Canadian First Lady. As each day passes, we could be guardedly optimistic of learning more about the virus. Over the years, we’ve had our fair share of outbreaks but none of this kind. This pandemic is not only physically crippling; it makes entire countries bow down. Despite the promise of a return to normality, one thing’s for certain: things may never be the same again. If this is the last day on Earth, what will your legacy be?