Last year, Covid hit and made 2020 an exceptionally unpopular year. At that time, I feel like we heard a lot about “returning to normal”. Maybe this would happen later in 2020, maybe it was for 2021, but it was going to be sometime in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, Australia was (largely) CovidFree and we were told the world envied our freedoms.
Fast forward to mid-2021, there were major outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne, over half the population of Australia were in lockdown, and the message had changed to “living with Covid”. Other countries were managing it (which perhaps gave them a break from envying us), so why couldn’t we? Vaccination targets were established for re-opening, the vaccination program was sped up, and both NSW and Victoria are now officially “living with Covid”.
The politicians have been out in full force for months selling it. But what exactly is being sold?
This time last week, we were still in lockdown, with our curfew continuing to apply right up to midnight. We’d been told that we weren’t going to have a UK-style “Freedom Day” where all restrictions were ended at once - and we didn’t. But somehow the “70% fully vaccinated” target morphed into a moral obligation to the people of Victoria, and so we got a “Freedom Midnight”.
It was a big deal. A time to celebrate. It was supposed to be the end of lockdown. Not just the end of the lockdown Melbourne had been in since August, but the end of lockdowns in Victoria forever.
So how better to celebrate it than a moonlit walk?
Here in Melbourne, today is officially the last day of lockdown. With the highest total number of days in lockdown due to Covid, we’ve been declared the “lockdown capital” of the world. This has included six lockdowns, three short and three long.
Recently, as restrictions have eased slightly, I’ve been reflecting how lockdowns shrink my world, and how that then affects me when coming out of a lockdown. It can be a conscious effort to choose to go to places or do activities that I would have gone to and done without a second thought in 2019.
Six months ago, I wrote about a year of working from home. At the time, things were going well in Melbourne. Since our long lockdown we’d largely had the great summer we were promised. There had been a couple of scares, including a five-day lockdown, but most mask requirements were gone, we were able to have 100% capacity at the office, and were planning to return to full-time in mid-April.
Well, that lasted around six weeks, before lockdown #4 struck. There were a few opportunities to return to the office in June and July, but since mid-July it’s been back to working from home again.
So I wanted to talk about a (non-)typical week: Last week. A week in which I admired cygnets, saw deer, was chased by chickens, discovered a WikiLeaks bus, and even managed to get some work done.
“Elementary, my dear Watson!”
I was on a train in the Bernese Oberland, a German speaking part of Switzerland, and the words were English, and yet they didn’t feel out of place. Because I too was on a pilgrimage in search of Sherlock Holmes.
For months now I’ve heard the narrative - presented with all the nuance that Twitter encourages - that calling a snap 3 - 5 day lockdown is the one infallible way to defeat a Covid outbreak. That led directly to claims that the current situation in Sydney (and NSW more generally) is largely due to them defying this orthodoxy for political reasons. And yet here I am in Melbourne, nearly three weeks into a lockdown that did all the right things and still has no end in sight.
How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.
So begins the historical record of Dracula, written a mere seven years after the events described, and still one of the best known vampire tales. The appeal to historicity is of course nothing but a narrative framing device, but it reminded me a lot of Christian apologetics.
A year ago today, while Melbourne was in lockdown, my grandfather died. With funerals capped at ten attendees I was only able to attend the funeral electronically, but it reminded me of times spent with him and how he had influenced my life.
This time last year, when Melbourne was in its second lockdown and case numbers were taking off, I heard a number of people asking why the numbers were still going up. The same is true of Sydney right now, which has been in lockdown for three weeks. People are scared and looking for someone to blame, and harmful narratives build.
At the start of January I had a list of books that made an impression on me in 2020. However, I didn’t quite get to writing it up (just like last year!). It seemed right to finish it by the 2021 halfway point (where does the time go?). Maybe I’ll be more timely with 2021 books in 2022.