Friday, August 21, 2020

Armidale Diaries - 9: covid-19

This table from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows in rather dramatic fashion the drop in international arrivals in Australia since covid-19 hit.  

The ripple effects of Australia's closed international borders roll on. To these we can add the effects of internal border closures between Australian states and territories. 

The internal border closures will ease, although they are having short to medium term effects. The international border closures will continue for some time. The effects here are likely to be more profound. 

At a purely personal level, Australians are a mobile people, at least as far as international travel is concerned. We are used to hopping on planes and flying. I think that we are all struggling to adjust to the new environment. At first, we thought that the border restrictions would be a short term thing, Now it appears that they may continue for an extended period. A certain weariness is setting in, one not limited to border closures.  I suppose that this is inevitable.

Heraklion, Crete. Eldest has just returned to Copenhagen from a holiday in Crete with her partner. Australians are being told that it may be the end of 2021 before we can travel overseas again for holidays. Many older Australians are feeling that they may never be able to travel overseas again in their lifetime.  

That remains my view although I accept that there have been errors and mistakes. However, the rubbing nature of restrictions, the suggestion that restrictions will have to be maintained indefinitely or at least for very long periods, is creating both frustration and loss of hope. This is not helped by the constant emphasis on the need to protect our mental health. 

There is a certain lack of subtlety, an absence of nuance and flexibility, in the response of Australian Governments to the virus which is now eroding community support. Part of the problem lies in an inability to distinguish between the responses required to meet an immediate challenge and those required to manage longer term. Our current responses are being dictated by immediate challenges such as the outbreak in Melbourne, responses based on legal jurisdictions applied independent of geographic variation. We don't have a longer term path to manage all this. 

To try to illustrate all this, the area I live in had a very small number of cases early on from return travellers. There have been no cases in the months since. The nearest present cases are a small number of cases in the lower Hunter linked to the Sydney outbreak. Many parts of our broader region have had no cases, 

When the epidemic began we lived under restrictions designed to stop the spread of the disease. People accepted that. Now we live under restrictions linked to the Melbourne outbreak and to the smaller Sydney outbreak.  Outside the limited border bubble we cannot travel to Queensland because that Government has declared all of NSW and the ACT a covid-19 hotspot. That holds even though we have had no recent cases, in some places no cases, creating major problems. 

Our local sport has been curtailed by restrictions based on Sydney problems. Our covid-19 record is better than WA or the Northern Territory and yet they can have spectators and we cannot. The recent Sydney outbreak saw further restrictions applied across NSW as a universal. 

The breakdown in economic and social activity has been quite profound to the point that recovery seems difficult. My U3A course has resumed. While many have dropped out or have deferred to next year, a group continues. Some are so glad to be back. I had not realised how important this course was as a social and intellectual outing for the dedicated few. 

To manage the return, I have had to double my workload to accommodate two smaller groups to fit with covid-19 space  restrictions. At each session I have to be there early to wipe down chairs and computer equipment. When the course finishes I have to do the same, helped by attendees so that the room is ready for the next group. 

Armidale U3A headquarters in happier days. 

The once buzzing centre is now quiet: there is warning tape across the main men's toilet; the kitchen and offices are closed; the friendly interaction that was once so important has gone. Armidale U3A is doing its best and has managed to restart many courses (we U3A tutors appear to be a stubborn lot), but its been a difficult road. 

This morning when I arrived at ACSA House, the Armidale U3A headquarters, to set up for the 9 am session I thought how the experience typified the covid-19 experience. 

Ian J had already arrived. He had had to have a minor operation that put him out of the course earlier. It was meant to be a minor procedure that turned into a four month's break. During much of this time he was isolated from his previous contacts.  Ian sat down while I set up the room, putting out the chairs and wiping them down. The building was freezing, so I put the air-conditioner on. I think of cold as a signifier of the covid-19 experience.

Our small group began to arrive. With covid-19 space limitations, I am allowed a maximum of 13 people in the main room including me. To split people up within space limitations I have around eight in each group. As tutor, I am meant to enforce all the covid-19 safe procedures. This includes two attendance registers, on for course purpose, the other for tracing purposes. I constantly have to remind myself and others to sign in, not always perfectly.

With the door shut and the room warming, I begin. I love my groups. One plus of covid-19 is that what was the largest U3A course has been forcibly split into smaller groups, making me change our lecture format and to switch more to discussions. I still have to get through the same content, but I do so in different ways. In doing so, they educate me!            
We talked about covid-19 in passing. I think that we are all confused, given that our area is covid free. The pressure is on to wear masks and some do. I always carry mine with me, but don't wear it in sessions because it makes projection difficult. The evolving principle for my groups appears to be that if you have a cold, wear a mask, otherwise not, given the length of time since we had a case. 

I spoke of the difference between immediate problems and longer term issues. It strikes me that my area has become locked between the two. If we had any covid-19 cases we would have to respond to immediate local issues. We don't, so what is being mandated across all aspects of life is being mandated be developments elsewhere.  We are struggling to respond. And in the meantime, we have no direction for the future.

When I looked at my daughter's photo of her visit to Crete, I wondered:  bloody hell, when will I be able to go overseas again? Will it be in my lifetime? I felt so envious. I think that we have to distinguish between immediate challenges in particular areas and the longer term. I think that we have to be selective and nuanced in our responses. I think, too, that we have to accept that their are risks and may be longer term losses. 

 And in purely local terms, why can't we have localised approaches that allow for variation, if with fall back positions should an outbreak occur.? Why should Armidale or Walcha or Moree be forced to responds to rules imposed elsewhere that have no connection to their area?  

 I don't know. I am just tired and a bit confused.  


Anonymous said...


I was in Crete a few years ago, a part of a tour of (mainly) Minoan, Mycenian and Macedonian Greece. Amazeballs!!! I thought Crete was the most magical place. Our tour leader, John Tidmarsh and I had many discussions about what I saw as pre-classical proto theatre structures in the Minoan palaces; he was kind enough to let me expound my theories. He even sort of agreed, which was nice.
I'm on leave from uni, again! All in lockdown, my supervisor is on sabbatical until January. The last 12 months have been pretty stressful, and really not conducive to concentrated academic work.
I take your point re travel. I only managed Europe for the first time in 99. I've crammed in a reasonable amount since then, but, even if touring resumes, I wonder, as age creeps up, how much I'll be able to manage, and for how long. So much more I want to see. Oh, well, like much more, all is in the lap of the gods. Keep well, glad you're keeping busy.

Jim Belshaw said...

Sorry for the delay in responding Kate. Petruchio is at fault. Not that he would admit it!

Crete is quite wonderful. I loved all the Greek islands - well, nearly all - but Crete was a favourite.

I'm sorry about the study problems. It's hard at the moment. I hope things pick up - and you can travel again too!