‘To be necessary, or not, that is the question.’ Sydney, Australia has been in lockdown since 26 June. Despite the heavy restrictions (including mandatory wearing of masks), the past two days has seen the state’s local cases eclipse eight hundred. During the shutdown, various businesses and attractions have closed their doors. Those remaining open have been singled out as ‘essential’ to the economy. The label has had conflicting definitions. Unlike in Victoria, where there were clear-cut differentiations, the meaning of essential in our state has been more…amorphous. While hair salons and churches were immediately off the table, electronics, shoe stores, and fitness retailers were still welcoming customers. Allow me to provide a few examples to enlighten you. Hopefully, I’ll allay both our confusion.
- Beaches. Aussies love the surf and the sand. Even on a sunny winter’s day, you can count on the crowds converging on the shore. Indeed, early on, the measures did not deter eager beavers from sunbathing in Bondi or Manly. However, despite our love for suntan and rips, do not be mistaken. Beaches are NOT essential. The large, packed numbers are the perfect recipe for COVID disaster. In such quantities, authorities would not be able to put a lid on things. That’s why they must ‘nip it in the bud.’ On the first day of the city-wide lockdown, the beach was off-limits. This reinforces my postulation that, in time of lockdown…no beach.
- Bookstores. Every bibliophile loves a decent brick and mortar bookshop. Online shopping, eBooks, and audiobooks have problematised the relevance of these trusty old shops. Some may even argue that they’re anachronisms from a bygone era. Though Borders has gone belly-up, Dymocks has survived. Some second-hand bookshops have also endured. In the first week of shutdown, a few of them have even soldiered on. However, like the beach, they are non-essential. Look at it this way. If you must choose between your next meal or read, which would you choose? Reading is a hobby, but food is quintessential.
- Churches. They are the abodes of our faith. We go to the basilica and the synagogue to worship Yahweh. Catholics attend mass to listen to scripture, hear the Priest’s sermon, partake in prayer, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We must impart one hour a week of our time to the Holy Eucharist. We must give generously and pay heed. One would think that such reverence would be deemed necessary, right? Wrong! The citywide restrictions were announced on Saturday afternoon (26th June). In our local parish, all Masses have been cancelled ‘until further notice.’ No doubt, our Churches are vital. However, their temporary omission is also critical if one were to stand a chance against the virus. Being an enclosed space, a cap on parishioner numbers is simply not good enough. ‘Prevention is better than cure.’
- Cinemas. On this list, I couldn’t think of something less important. Theatres is like commercial flights; they are irrelevant in a lockdown economy. Like beaches, they are the perfect setting for a COVID hotspot. Ever since the outbreak started early last year, I dare say that they deserve no place in the status quo. Anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. Remember that limo driver who attended a session at Bondi? Those patrons who bought tickets that day may have just as well have boarded the COVID Express.
In the months during and after last year’s nationwide lockdown, the cinemas kept offering basement-price vouchers. As if anyone could be bothered to snap them up. If I may, these big businesses should have done that before the pandemic, when people still actually cared. To top it off, they gladly expired members’ points in the aftermath. This is even more reason for movie buffs to boycott. Moreover, the ubiquity of streaming services has rendered these theatres as shoguns. Shelling out your hard-earned bucks on a comatose medium is just pointless. Instead of the big screen, dim your room and get a month’s worth of entertainment. If you ask me, cinemas are a luxury during ordinary times…and in COVID? Avoid.
- Fashion stores. I must stress that this applies not only to clothing stores but likewise with shoe stores and general merchandise. As of today, over ninety percent of these fashion chains have shuttered till the end of lockdown. This is not without good reason. People will not part with their cash while risking their own health by browsing in-store. Indeed, a fair number of these outlets have already called it quits – further casualties of the COVID outbreak. The rise of online shopping has also accelerated their demise. Some of these businesses have focused instead on gaining online traction. In this case, the shops have learned to adapt.
- Gyms. For the fitness buff, a gym would be critical, no question. People may have all sorts of reasons for cardio: to lose weight, to put on muscles, to be a different person. I have some bad news for them: according to state regulations, gyms are not paramount. Why? They operate in enclosed spaces, which endangers a COVID spreader. Furthermore, exercise could be replaced or repurposed. You could buy gym equipment or go for a run. Early in the lockdown, you could even do your exercises outdoors, subject to head caps. One look at these eerie places and they epitomise the COVID restrictions: big spaces empty, high-tech equipment left untouched.
- Hair salons. They were one of the earliest scalps, mainly due to the Double Bay cluster. Said spreader was connected to a hair salon, one of the engines behind the state’s decision to close. Oddly enough, they were still open at the onset of last year’s lockdown. I’m not against haircuts (I’ve had two at home since lockdown 2.0). However, these salons are usually in tight spaces, which does not bode well for COVID prevention. Even if you limit the number of heads inside, what if these same clients are harbingers? You can’t be too cautious.
Hairdressing is much like exercise: with proper attention, you can do it yourself. There are stores selling the tools and online how-to’s. The closures of these hairdressers have certainly affected lots of people, potentially thousands. Even the bigwigs in the fight against the virus have not appeared unscathed when they preside on TV. Even home service is not possible, as you cannot risk having visitors while the outbreak rages. During a Sydney protest, one rallyist held a sign that said, ‘I need a haircut.’ There’s sure to be a long queue when they re-open. Perfect COVID recipe.
- Libraries. The repositories immediately heeded the city’s COVID regulations. First, the City libraries closed their doors. The following day, all other suburban bibliotheca’s followed suit. The move was sudden and caught me off-guard. I was only able to borrow two items prior to the shutdown. Sadly, I must admit that these libraries are expendable. Last year, they were shuttered at the height of the pandemic. Some eventually offered click and collect, before finally re-opening. Though they were back, the shadow of COVID loomed. The library experience was different, with visitor caps and sometimes even duration caps. Social distancing was practiced. Just like the previous six items, libraries are typically in enclosed spaces. Hence, they are unsuitable during lockdown.
A couple of days ago, the announcement came that the state-wide lockdown is extended until end of September. The Premier has outlined her plan out of the shutdown. A model vaccination rate is critical. There will always be uncertainty during these tough times. The lockdown has already been extended on a few occasions and was supposed to end next week. The characters may be different but the feeling’s the same. Beachgoers want a dip. Booklovers need a reprieve. Fitness buffs yearn for their sanctuary. Fashionistas need their next outfit. Everybody pines for a haircut, which has been a luxury. How much is that on the black market?