Leon Mika

Leon Mika

A Year Under The Pandemic

This was originally a journal entry but I thought I’d share it here as well. Today is the end of week 52, almost a year to the day that the pandemic became all to real for me. I’ve taken today day off to spend some time in Warburton. It was in Warburton last year, almost to the day (13th of March), that things began to get serious. The news coming out of China and Italy was grave: hundreds of deaths, thousands of new cases, hospitals filling up, lack of ventilators and staff to operate them, PPE shortages, scenes of people locked down in their home. The outbreak in New York was becoming serious as well, and the US government announced closure of their borders to Europe.

There were also a number of new cases here as well, it may have been 100 or so around the country. That Friday a number public events were cancelled, like the AFL and Grand Prix, and the borders were closed off to the rest of the world — nobody was allowed in or out. There was a run on things at the shops as officials advised people to be stocked for two weeks should you need to isolate. Toilet paper was in short supply, along with some other staples like pasta and tuna. There was a general sense of unease around the place.

It was also the time when I started working from home. I returned one last time to the office of my old job on Tuesday the following week. The city was quite quiet. A lot more people were wearing marks and half the cafes were closed for the afternoon. I haven’t been back to that office since. I think the weekend following I stopped meeting my parents for dinner, and only went out for groceries.

I guess it’s hard to describe how scary the situation was at the time. The testing and tracing infrastructure was not yet setup, so nobody really knew where the virus was. The government ensured us that there was no local transmission, but it was difficult to believe them, especially as case numbers were rising rapidly. The reported death rate was also terrifying — up to 3% at the time but higher in certain places. I was fearful of everyone I loved, as well as myself, catching the disease and ending up on a ventilator, or worse, dying. Taiwan was the only country at the time to have curbed the virus: most Western countries were struggling with outbreaks, so at the time I had little faith that Australia would be able to manage the virus as well.

I was also afraid that the lock downs would last until a vaccine is available. At the time medical experts were tempering expectations of a speedy delivery of a vaccine. Turnaround times were usually 1 to 1.5 years. The fact that they were ready the same year was considered a bit of a breakthrough (I guess these things really do happen).

A lot has happened this past 52 weeks. The nation has managed to keep the virus more or less under control. There were setbacks though: the second Melbourne lock down was regrettable. But we have managed to setup a somewhat decent testing and contact tracing regime, along with hotel quarantine, and new local cases have been at or close to zero for most of the past 5 months. Vaccinations of the border workers, front line workers, and people at risk are currently in progress.

A sense of normalcy has returned, in what is generally called “Covid normal”. The borders are still closed to everyone except New Zealanders, and no one is generally permitted to leave the country. Since November, things have pretty much remained more-or-less opened. Events like the AFL are back on with small crowds that are socially distanced.

But the threat remains. Every day I’m looking on Twitter to see what the latest number of new cases is. There’s a constant trickle of positive cases coming in from overseas, where the virus is still raging. There have been new, more contagious and deadly, variants popping up, and it’s a constant struggle to keep them out: we have had to go through a 5 day snap lock-down to stop local transmission of one.

So there’s little to do but wait. I appreciate that we’ve managed to gain some semblance of normalcy back, something that I’m aware others around the world have been denied so far. Eventually this will pass as well, but I’m hoping it doesn’t take another 52 weeks.