This has been a funny mixed up year,
At the start of 2020 year we were coming out of a period of fire and drought. I was four months back in Armidale and was becoming comfortable with my new/old life style. Indeed, I was enjoying myself.
On 6 February I launched my introductory course on the history of Australia's New England. That same day Helen and Christian arrived in town from Copenhagen.
The first known Australian covid-19 case had been identified on 25 January in a traveler returning from Wuhan, but the virus still seemed somewhat remote. Matters accelerated from there, although the spread was at first uncertain.
On 5 March I delivered lecture five on my course, on 10 March held the third discussion group. On 13 March, the National Cabinet was created to coordinate Commonwealth-State responses. On 17 March, U3A lectures were suspended indefinitely.
On 19 March, the cruise ship Ruby Princess docked in Sydney, disembarking 2,700 passengers. This started a super-spreader event spreading covid across Australia.
Australia closed its borders to all non-residents on 20 March, requiring returning residents to enter quarantine. On 21 March, all the states and territories introduced some form of social restrictions intended to slow the spread of the disease.
These measure were initially successful despite the Ruby Princess. After growing rapidly, the number of new cases levelled out at about 350 per day around 22 March and then started falling at the beginning of April to under 20 cases per day by the end of the month. Then after this initial success, a second wave began in Melbourne in May and June linked to failures in hotel quarantine arrangements.
On 6 August with lower case numbers in NSW, none in our region, and the lightening of social distancing restrictions I was able to resume the course if under reasonably tight restrictions. The local mood had lightened considerably, a process that continued with the progressive reduction and then apparent suppression of community transmission.
Then came the sudden outbreak in Sydney's Northern Beaches, leading to the area being declared a covid hotspot on 18 December. With more cases, the previously re-opening state and territory borders closed again in sometimes chaotic conditions.
Reflecting on all this today, my main feeling was one of weariness. It's all becoming too complicated. The chaotic scenes at Adelaide Airport where travellers were told, wrongly, that they had either to return to Sydney or, alternatively, go into hotel quarantine at their own expense beggar belief. At least in the Northern Territory, airline passengers from New South Wales who were caught out by the sudden hotspot declaration for Greater Sydney yesterday were given the choice of a free flight home, a cost-free mandatory quarantine stay or a refunded ticket if they had already bought a return flight.
I do take pride in the way that Sydney's Northern Beaches have responded to the outbreak, but I think that we need a more nuanced approach, something I have commented on before. I was at an outdoor function today that was legal yesterday, may not have been today. It's hard when you have had no community transmission to maintain precautions month after month after month after month after month. Of course, there is always a risk that someone may bring covid in. That has to be accepted and reacted to, but universal restrictions maintained for very long periods become ineffective.
This morning the ABC's Dr Norman Swan commented if I heard him correctly that everyone in NSW should be wearing masks. Good luck with that. I have noticed that very few do now in this area. I always used to cleanse my hands before going into a store. I rarely do now and I'm not alone. You can only go on so long on a what-if basis.
The real challenge is, I think, to get people to quick in quickly the instant a need appears. This does carry risks, but they are less (I think) than the attempted maintenance of universal restrictions that become ineffective. As part of this, I think that should be gaming of possible scenarios so that people know what to do. This needs to be done at local or regional level to be truly effective.