I understand why you went to Bondi. It was a stunning March day, a Friday at that, and after a week of bleak news and supermarket brawls, perhaps you deserved some light relief.
And I don’t think anyone told you not to go. Not explicitly, anyway.
We’re living in a 24-hour news cycle with more access to information than ever before; we have COVID-19 updates pinging on our phones and pumping into our ears. And yet I feel one message has been somewhat murky: what the hell are we all supposed to do?
Of course in this brave new world, the government is still grappling with that. Eight days ago our PM was urging us to attend sports stadiums packed with tens of thousands of others; a week later non-essential indoor gatherings of over 100 people have been banned.
I can’t blame the government for changing its tack in this fast-moving crisis, but advice has been ambiguous, even weak, littered with a new 2020 lexicon rather than straight-up rules and regulations. For many, a firm prod to “practise social distancing” is not going to have cut-through. And what exactly counts as an essential gathering anyway? Your weekly trivia night at the pub, perhaps? Topping up your tan with your girlfriends? (It doesn’t, but you get the point.)
We’ve been told not to handshake or hug, and to get out our rulers and ensure we keep a precise 1.5 metres between each other at all times. Measures have been taken to isolate those returning from overseas, but there’s one thing the rest of us haven’t been told: stay the f*ck home.
For me, it’s only having spoken to friends who work in hospitals, and a few particularly well-read, forward-thinking family members, that I’ve really started to get my head around this pandemic. If not for them, I may have been slapping on the sunscreen and joining you all at the beach yesterday.
And so I wanted to share some of their clear-cut words.
- Stop with the “everyone’s hysterical so I’m not going to be” line. Sure, there’s no need to panic-buy toilet paper, but taking pride in your lax Aussie attitude and rebellious streak is not helpful right now. In fact, it could be fatal.
- You’re young and fit and unconcerned about catching the virus? Great, I’m the same. But COVID-19 is seriously contagious. You could catch it and take two weeks to show any symptoms (or not show symptoms at all) and in that time you’ve gone about your daily life and spread it exponentially. In fact, within a month, an extra 400 people could be infected.
- The problem with the exponential spread is that when this peaks, the health system won’t cope – we don’t have enough ventilators or ICU beds. Doctors and nurses who are not trained in the appropriate fields are going to be forced onto the frontline; they’ve been told they’ll have to make decisions about who lives and who dies.
- Yes, people will die (and please stop saying they’re old and they’re going to die anyway.) Right now, men and women in their 40s are fighting for their lives in Sydney hospitals. And this will impact others who are sick and vulnerable in our community – completely separate from coronavirus – who won’t be able to receive the treatment they need.
- This is the important one: the best way we can limit the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home. The government has presented complex equations about ensuring there’s four-square-metres per person in indoor venues. It’s probably easier to keep it simple: limit your contact with others. Greatly. Stay home.
I’m not asking you to stop living your life, but we’re all going to have to make some major changes. Grab takeaway from your favourite restaurant rather than eating out (some of Australia’s best eateries are serving up food to go – The Apollo in Sydney, anyone?), go for a walk with your friend or have a secluded picnic with your partner. Do your workouts from home (keep paying your gym membership if you’re worried about the impact on the business and you have the means).
We’re living in uncertain times and this is not going to be easy or fun. But we all have the power to impact how this plays out – and ends. The sooner we take action, the better.
This time three weeks ago Italy had 229 confirmed coronavirus cases; now they have 41,035 cases and 4032 people have lost their lives.
Today Australia has 928 confirmed cases. What happens next is up to us.
And if Scott Morrison’s not going to say it, I will. Stay the f*ck home.
Yours in socially distanced solidarity,
PS – Breaking news: Bondi Beach has just been temporarily closed, but please don't flock to the pub instead.