Notes from (Sydney’s) lockdown

A flurry of COVID cases last week had prompted the NSW government to enact a partial lockdown last Friday (25th of June). This would’ve lasted a full week. The four councils included City of Sydney, Woollahra, and Waverley. This meant no sunbathing in Bondi Beach, after the local Westfield became a hotspot. With twelve more cases last Saturday, state officials imposed a full lockdown in greater Sydney. This was effective from 6pm on the 26th until the 9th of July, coinciding with the school holidays. In the days prior, other states had already closed their borders. The Sydney wide restrictions are only the second of its kind, after the nationwide lockdown last year.

Por J. Rizal

Last Friday, I visited my chiropractor. The whole city centre had gotten the memo. The train platforms were deserted, the streets empty. Downtown seemed like a still from The Walking Dead. Practically everyone was wearing a mask, as per the guidelines. The mask rules had been mandatory on public transport since the previous Friday afternoon. Since then, they have been expanded to all indoor venues, including workplaces, malls, and places of worship. Commuters were once again instructed to sit on the green dots for social distancing purposes.

During my visit, I discussed the Noli with Jeff. I am currently reading the English version of Rizal’s obra. I told him that it was originally written in Spanish. The book is considered the foremost novel in the country. I mentioned that Rizal lived in the nineteenth century, back when the Philippines was under Spanish rule. I also said that Rizal was a martyr, an ophthalmologist, and a polymath. He was so much more than a writer. I remarked that the dialogue could get tedious, with some characters going on for two pages. He mentioned that Flaubert wrote like that.

A city deserted

Lunch was at Hunter Connection. I noted that Subway had vacated for good. There was a big Korean place that had also closed. Many stores did not open for the day. The patron numbers were way down. The so-called Delta Variant of the virus is at large. Originating from India, the infection is twice as deadly as other strains. This lockdown could be traced to a limo driver, who transports overseas airline crew. He traversed Sydney while harbouring the virus. The infections were spread across several places, including the infamous Bondi cluster. On Tuesday, seventeen out of nineteen new cases were linked to the latter. Later, I wondered what would happen to H & M? Their Bondi store would close in July but the backlash from the cluster would spell doom for them. At least the Chatswood branch was able to leave with a proper goodbye.

More clusters

A social gathering in West Hoxton also caused harm, as thirty-four attendees have tested positive. The rest are in isolation. Meanwhile, a similar cluster had developed at a Double Bay hair salon. At last count, the number of infected there has ballooned to twelve. An ill Virgin Australia flight attendant also worsened the matter, exposing hundreds of passengers and crew. Lately, a few schools around Sydney are on high alert after students caught the virus. Most troubling are those cases not linked to the clusters. In the news, I heard about this flight to Hobart from Sydney. The passengers had already boarded the plane but waited three hours, only to be told that their flight was cancelled. Other states soon excluded greater Sydney, before shutting their borders for good. The New Zealand travel bubble was also off the table.

Sydney’s second wave

As mentioned, by Saturday afternoon, the government enforced a hard lockdown for two weeks. They urged all residents to stay at home, with a few exceptions. For instance, being an essential or frontline worker was a valid reason to go out. The premier outlined four main reasons to go out. The first is as per above: doing essential work. The other three are:  doing groceries, exercising, and visiting for compassionate grounds. I was surprised that, until further notice, all masses at our local parish had been cancelled. Retailers are still allowed to open but doing so would be a bad idea what with the lack of shoppers. Some stores, like Harvey Norman, Rebel, JB Hi-Fi, and David Jones have elected to stay open.

Food outlets operate on a takeaway basis only. The onset of Sydney’s second wave also prompted some panic buying. On Thursday night, the shelves at Woolworths Eastgardens were bare. Soon, the mad rush for toilet paper was back on. Images of grocers hoarding trolleys full of them were all over social media. The supermarkets again ordered limits on certain products. When I went to Woolies on Saturday, the entire bread section was empty. Ditto the meat section. At least there were still three packs of toilet tissues. Major sporting competitions have also had to improvise. The NRL (National Rugby League) is operating on level four restrictions. This means that they can only play, train, do essential shopping, and have no visitors outside the bubble. Meanwhile, all eighteen teams in the AFL (Australian Football League) are now temporarily based in Victoria.  

The bashful dollars

This is bad news for business in Sydney. The school holidays would bring tourism spending to town. Economists estimate a $2 billion decline for the state’s economy. Outlets who had just started attracting clients again would have to cool off. Cinemas will take another hit, especially perturbing since the school break would’ve brought more patrons. Furthermore, gyms are shut, and fitness buffs would have to carry on by themselves. While big brands have the insulation, small businesses are the real vanquished.  

Going places

In the latest developments, concern has now spread well beyond Sydney. First to take precautions were the Western Australian and Northern Territory governments. The former could link its infections to NSW. In particular, the Perth and Peel areas of the state were in lockdown.Meanwhile, Queensland had two new cases on Tuesday. A hospital clerical worker caused this. The state premier was ‘furious’ and promptly issued a three-day lockdown, which included Brisbane. On Monday, 50,000 COVID tests were conducted in NSW and the queues were even longer than that of the groceries. Lines for the vaccines were likewise lengthy as demand surged following the new outbreak.

On Wednesday, 22 new cases emerged in NSW. The new outbreak was said not only to be concentrated in a few areas but was apparent throughout the nation. Friday saw the number balloon to 31 and the COVID tests went over 70,000. Today (Saturday), that figure has risen to 35. With the citywide lockdown in full swing, we can all do our bit. This ties in nicely with the Noli. In the late 1800s, Rizal was fighting a social cancer. These days, we likewise must contend with a bigger battle: the hurdle of COVID-19. When the dust settles, we can embody the lessons we learned today.

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