Living under COVID-19 (4)

It’s some months since I wrote a “living under COVID-19” post, as things have been pretty much pottering along here in the Australian Capital Territory, but I’ve decided it’s time to do an update (for posterity if for no other reason.)


There’s been much talk about living under COVID-normal, though what that means is, I suspect, a movable feast depending on where your jurisdiction is at.

Lamsheds Restaurant, Yarralumla
Spaced tables, Lamsheds, Yarralumla

Here in the ACT, where we’ve had fewer than 10 cases since May (and only one since mid-July), COVID-normal means, primarily:

  • sanitising, everywhere
  • cleaning, particularly in cafes and restaurants after each client
  • checking-in, via QR-code apps, QR-code websites using phone cameras, or good old pencil and paper. Privacy? What privacy!
  • social distancing: public venues – shops, restaurants, etc – are currently restricted to one person per four square metres of “usable indoor space” and one person per two square metres of outdoor space rule, but larger gatherings in larger spaces are allowed (thought still with some upper limits).
  • no masks, except by personal choice or for certain health workers

We have no limits on household visits, so my reading group has been meeting in person (woo hoo) for some months. Cinemas have been open since July with strict social distancing, which the cinemas have been handling very well through allocated seating with enforced separation, and spaced scheduling creating quiet foyers.

I can visit my father in Aged Care, as long as I meet certain requirements. Visits have some limitations, but the constraints, though a little irritating, are minor. We certainly can’t complain, and our older people feel safe.

Online eventing – book launches, musical events

As I’ve written in previous posts – and something you all know – the main plus out of this pandemic has been the ability to attend remote events that we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend. I haven’t got to as many as I’d like because the timing frequently conflicts with other commitments. (How does that happen?) Anyhow, events I’ve “attended” since my last COVID-19 post are (in case you are interested):

Book cover

More consolation than plus – though we’ll take it – are the streamed live performances. We’ve not attended many of these, once again due to timing and commitments, but we have enjoyed some Discover Musica Viva Concerts with accordionist James Crabb and cellist Julian Smiles, and then classical guitarist Karin Schaupp. These were short concerts, but delightful with the performers introducing their pieces. I always enjoy hearing musicians talk about the pieces they play. I was devastated to have missed my beloved Griffyn Ensemble’s event (though we paid for it).

Spring has sprung – big

As if the universe knew we needed it – as if! – we have had a beautiful spring down under with enough blossoms (and flowering weeds) to cheer the saddest heart (I hope).

Need I say more? (From our garden, except the tulips, which are from Moss Vale)

Helen Garner’s lockdown diaries

Book cover

You all know how much I love Helen Garner, and how much I enjoyed the publications of volume 1 of her diaries in 2018 (my review), so I was excited to see her “lockdown diaries” in The Monthly, October xx, 2020. One of the things I enjoyed about reading this piece, besides the writing, was that I could track the trajectory from COVID-19’s earlier days in Australia to around August/September. Garner, for those who don’t know, lives in Melbourne, so her diaries include the only significant second wave lockdown we’ve had here in Australia.

We’re supposed to observe physical distancing. Everyone is to have an area of 4 square metres. “These are not suggestions,” says the chief medical officer. “These are civic duties.” The phrase “civic duty” thrills me.

I love the idea that ‘the phrase “civic duty”‘ thrills her!

Stage 3 lockdown. People over 70 are ordered to stay home for three months. A stab of stir-craziness, then, again, the stoical feeling.

This immediately brought to mind Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence (my review), and her discussion of stoicism, using the extreme example of Jim Stockdale (a POW in “Hanoi Hilton” for over 7 years).

Cadavers encased in white plastic are trolleyed out of New York hospitals and trucked in refrigerated vans to mass graves. Are they old people? Rash people who kept going to clubs? People with delivery jobs or “co-morbidities”? Who are the unlucky ones? Why are they dead, and we’re not? Is there a reason? Will we ever understand what’s happening to us?

Good questions, Ms Garner!

The old professor calls. He talks for a good 20 minutes, he can’t stop, he is flustered, agitated, distressed, veering among the wrecked shards of his mind. His sentences have no content but they are so perfectly jointed and polished that they make me dizzy with admiration. When at last he begins to peter out (…) I produce from behind my back the syringe of praise and give him a huge shot: “Your English is admirable and beautiful. Your syntax is faultless.” He becomes relaxed and sunny, like someone who’s had a hit of Valium: “I am a man. I am vain. You have entered my soul.”

This pure Garner – the interaction (with her old German neighbour, recently moved to aged care), the tone, the language. I love her description of producing from behind her back “the syringe of praise” to “give him a huge shot”.

Numbers of new cases rise and rise. Hotspots here and there. The big flats shut down. Quarantine hotels. A new lockdown, from midnight. People are refusing to be tested. How can people refuse? The world I’ve spent my life in is coming to an end. I keep myself half turned away, my eyes narrowed. On some deep level I’m terrified.

Do you feel as Helen does? And, overall, how are you faring?

61 thoughts on “Living under COVID-19 (4)

  1. It’s fall here, and as the darkness and cold close in, more people are falling sick. I live in a small town and many of the people around here believed it when they were told covid was a “hoax” so they don’t wear masks or take any precautions. I don’t go anywhere and although I’ve seen a few friends outside over the summer and early fall, those visits are drawing to an end with the end of above-freezing temperatures. It’s going to be a long, lonely winter.

    • I feel so sorry for you all Jeanne. My dear Californian friend writes to me about the mask wars there between the believers and the deniers.

      Our children spent most of our winter in lock down in Melbourne. It was tough but we’ll worth it. Of course they have leadership that stood a tough line against criticism but it e countries are now looking at what they achieved.

      Anyhow, I wish you a cosy winter full of good books and online fun!

  2. We have been free of the virus here in Tassie for several months, thanks to our state lockdown. But the state has now opened to everyone except overseas and Victoria. I miss having trips to look forward to but overall am keeping busy and dojng things that needed to be done that I previously ignored.

    I read the Garner interview in the monthly and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching all events around the US election but it was exhausting. I am now following the news coming out of your fair city related to the 4 Corners and Q and A program this week. Never a dull moment. 🐧🤠🌷

    • We’ve been prettymuch like you too Pam. About 5 in July relating to Melbourne travellers, and 1 a month ago for a returning diplomat. I’m amazed given we can’t cut ourselves off. We are pleased about Tasmania’s relaxation because it has meant my brother has been able to come up to see Dad. And we are doing a little Central West road trip.

  3. There was a Readings event with Helen last night – I signed up but couldn’t make it, so was pleased when I was sent a link to watch, which I will. I got the impression that Helen spoke of her COVID lockdown experience, which will be interesting because in the past I have heard her say that she spends a lot of time observing people on the tram, in a nearby hospital cafe – a lot of that activity has been curtailed during lockdown (although I’m sure she’s not short of inspiration!).

  4. Here on Long Island, New York, late March to early June, I think that we had some of the highest infection rates in the world. Only Supermarkets, drugstores and a few other things were open. We were really locked down. Thanks to our Governor’s hard line in things. Over the last four months or so we really got rid of it and except for masks we were mostly normal. With the cooler weather here it is now coming back. Hopefully winter will not be as bad as the officials are predicting.

    Stay safe.

    • Thanks for filling us in on your area Brian. It really does take following tough regimes to pull it back doesn’t it. Victoria here had a real scare over winter. Most in that state followed the rules which like yours included only essential services like mentioned being open. They are now opening up as we go into summer. Fingers crossed

  5. Putting my hand up here for Jeanne, with some advice about not letting loneliness get to you: throughout the long months we kept in touch with each other with long chatty phone calls (and I’m normally off the phone in under a minute), and with regular emails. The trick is to have something to talk about otherwise the contact degenerates into a moanfest. You need to plan for this, it doesn’t just happen. My French class watched a French movie to discuss and shared news about books we’d read in French or by French authors; with other friends we made a time to talk about specific films & TV & music. It’s also really nice to plan for the future with friends: choosing the first restaurant to go to, or the first overseas trip or local holiday. This makes the future seem real rather than hopeless.
    We also used Facebook to brag about our baking and gardening exploits, and if you can get it going, a neighbourhood Facebook group is good too, as long as you have a strong moderator who will terminate the membership of anyone sabotaging the health and safety messages with false information. When top restaurants pivoted to provide delivery services we also had ‘date nights’ to brag about.
    You also need some brain food. I did two MOOCs which kept me busy at the beginning when I was missing my F2F classes, and then my Latin tutor started sending us work to do as soon as we all realised we weren’t going to get back to class any time soon.
    And of course I had my blog, which has been a source of great connection with my reading friends from all over the world.
    Good luck!

    • Thanks Lisa… Great ideas from someone who knows whereof she speaks. I like your I sea a bout having topic to talk about. Great advice.

      I’ll just add that other apps like WhatsApp can be used too, besides Facebook (we did WhatsApp in our neighbourhood early on.) The value of these neighbourhood groups too, as I know you know, is that you can keep an eye out for those who might be struggling or who need help in any way.

      • I don’t know whether Jeanne is allowed to take walks where she is, but my daily walks with the dog were a way of touching base with neighbours too. One lady who I knew only by sight was having a really tough time, and I think that my cheery, ‘hi, how are you getting on?’ as we walked on our respective sides of the street was like opening a dam wall. I suspect she hadn’t spoken to anyone all day. I crossed over, and we stood 2 metres apart while she told me her troubles. Now that we are allowed to host people from outside our households, I’m planning an afternoon tea in the garden for her and another lady in somewhat similar circumstances so that they can get to know each other. LOL, you know Melbourne, I’m just waiting for a break in the weather to do it!

        • Haha, re Melbourne! I certainly do know Melbourne. Don’t remind me! Our last visit in March was blissfully fine and fair that it had almost erased the multiple previous grey, inclement, trips! Anyhow, your idea is a lovely one. Good luck with it.

  6. Spring seems to spring in and out. I loaded in constant pouring rain south of Perth Monday, today I’m in Pt Augusta, sun, mid thirties. Mt Gambier tomorrow, it will probably be raining again.
    WA and Vic are both out of isolation but truck drivers are still in. Is that fair?! Luckily Millie talks to me once or twice a week or I might have spent 5 months in silence – apart from necessary transactions. Mum in Vic is free again and I may visit her at the weekend. She’s had it tougher than I have and I should stop whingeing.

    • Why are you still, Bill?

      Anyhow, I’m really thrilled that you might be able to see your Mum. And I’m so glad you’ve had the lovely Millie keeping an eye out for you!

      BTW we’ve thought a lot about you the last few days as we’ve travelled central NSW, particularly the Newell Highway and environs, in the company of trucks! I think you know that route pretty well too.

  7. Been very lucky in WA. I worked from home for 8 weeks when our lockdown began on March 23, but everything is pretty much back to normal here. I went to the cinema for the first time on Friday night… no social distancing in place… which felt a bit odd. Of course, we have hard border closures, which means I’m effectively trapped here. My OH who came out for a 3 week holiday on 5 March is still here! We had to get him a bridging visa but he won’t be able to get spousal visa until he goes back to UK to get rest of the paperwork. It’s a catch-22 situation. I was booked to go back to London for two weeks in April, the plan being to help pack up our London flat so we could put it on the market. We keep having anxiety attacks about the place being empty so long, but there is nothing we can do. Life has been put on hold. Still, I feel very fortunate to live in what must be the safest place in the world right now. And I have been very lucky in the past to have travelled widely so do not feel like I’m missing out now.

    • Thanks kimbofo. All things consdered it’s probably good your OH came out when he did? Has anyone been able to keep an eye on your unit? The whole spousal visa business is such a rigmarole isnt it?

      We’ve been going to the cinema for months now, but with social distancing in place, which I must say has been really lovely, though not so much for the businesses involved! I’ve loved social distancing in restaurants too, as they’ve been so much quieter with spaced seating. But, I know cinemas and restaurants are struggling so don’t begrudge them the relaxations as they come because in the end I want them to survive!

      Anyhow, good luck, with getting everything sorted out with your partner’s move here.

  8. Hi Sue, here in Victoria I suffered from the isolation mentally. I haven’t seen my daughter and my grandsons who are in Tasmania since January. My son who only lives one kilometre from me, I could not see for some time. He lives on his own and has a good job, but work and not mixing with friends was hard for him. Yes, I know it was just as difficult for everyone else. Last week it was very sad for me because the lady I deliver library books to died. She was 97, and died at home, and not from the virus. I couldn’t attend the funeral but the family advised me that I was mentioned in the eulogy. Joan and I had a good connection, discussing novels and gambling. Now I am socializing and volunteering again, so things are looking better. And, maybe my son and I will be able to visit Tasmania. I think my dog, helped me to stay sane.

    • Thanks Meg. I’m really sorry for what you’ve all been through. We are really missing our Melbourne family and are so glad that we saw our grandson in mid-March, the first weekend that things started to close. Videos have been good but not the same.

      I’m so sorry about your friend. So sad for you and her that her last months were isolated. My daughter who lives alone did get a mental health plan enabling her to see her brother through the lockdown. That saved her sanity. Otherwise she would have suffered significantly. I’m sorry your son was so isolated. Really tough. Fingers crossed this won’t have to happen again, eh? Take care.

  9. Helen Garner puts it much better than I do, but I’ve worked through lockdown in Melbourne and my workmates are all saying that we’re living at work, rather than working from home. Work has stretched into all of our after hours time, people send emails all night long. I wake up in the morning and check my emails to find twenty or more emails from workmates who are also in Melbourne and I know they are working through the day too. Some are working while their children are asleep but others are just working, working, working.
    Otherwise, I’ve noticed this week that we’re all full of hope. I went to a shop last week (it was so exciting!) and my fellow shoppers and I all made eye contact, smiled at each other and chatted despite out masks, something that doesn’t happen a great deal in Melbourne.

    • Oh I loved that line, Rose, “I went to a shop last week (it was so exciting!)”. That made me laugh.

      Seriously though, what you say about working from home sounds very much like my daughter’s and son’s partner’s experiences. (Not so much my son’s as he’s a teacher so his hours are more controlled.) I can see that with the need to look after kids and also work, being flexible with hours is a good thing, but how do you draw the boundaries and how do you do that work with others also being flexible with hours, perhaps different to yours. I really hope we as a society can progress from here keeping the good things and leaving the bad ones behind. Take care, Rose, and keep chatting to other Melbournites!

      • I’ve loved working from home and actually feel more connected with my workmates as we’ve had mandated daily catchups. Lockdown has made the business I work for busier than ever before so we are all hoping for a breather as Covid numbers and restrictions decline, while still wanting the business to be as successful as possible.
        I grew up in the country so chat to everyone who crosses my path anyway, but going to the shop last week was such an unexpectedly joyful occasion that I think I’ll associate the memory with coming out of lockdown forever.

        • My daughter likes working from home too… And catches up with her team every morning. Her company is about online education. However I think they are missing their company team building occasions.

          I spent some of my youth in small places and am inclined to chat too.

          I love though that you have such a lovely thing to associate coming out of lockdown with.

  10. The Netherlands is trying to manage the covid virus with pragmatic leadership
    …and keeping a cool head. The Dutch are smart people and realize we just have to get through the winter.
    We closed ALL bars and restaurants since 15 October…and we are bending the curve
    of the virus! They will remain closed until at least 01 December. We are desperately
    trying to create an environment in which some Xmas celebration is possible.

    Great news….NO fireworks will be allowed on New Years Eve 31 Dec – 01Jan.
    That is just a harrowing tradition here and the noise goes on until 0200 am sometimes.
    People (…like me who enjoy quiet)….all cats and dogs are jubilant!
    This is quite a bold decision to reduce the pressure on hospitals, care givers, police, firemen
    …they have enough to do besides sweeping up all the chaos (…esp eye injuries!).
    I lost all reading-focus during the Spring/Summer (….on the other side of the world). I took walks, took photos, listened to audiobooks and wrote some ‘Covid Journals’ on my book blog. I just had to write about my feelings to process them. Now, since September I have been able to get back to a reading schedule thanks to some challenges (#AusReadingMonth2020, #NovNov and #NonfivNov). NL: our R-number is now down to 0,91 (was 1,4), still have 20/25regio’s niveau ‘very bad’ and 5 niveau ‘bad’. Masks are worn in all public places (stores visits to medical centers etc), luckily libraries are still open..that helps people remain sane.
    You are luckily entering a beautiful season, Spring….we are feeling the tug toward a time of hibernation, descending into darkness with Persephone.

    • I’m so glad your close down is having effect Nancy. I hope it continues.

      I enjoyed reading your journals Nancy, but am so pleased you have your reading mo-jo back again.

      Thanks for sharing both your personal and The Netherlands’ experiences.

  11. I’ve been on Utube a lot due to musical interests and what I’ve loved is the comments from people around the world cheering each other on. “Anyone in lock down?” asked one viewer and another (from another country) replied Yes. “How’s it going”: asked the first person. “Brutal!”came the reply.

    I find myself checking every night for updates on my favourite channels – and people are wonderful, putting up music just for people to enjoy. And I love that we can “talk” to each other, even if it’s in typeface like here!

  12. Sounds like things are going in the right direction for you, which is great news. It hasn’t been good here in Northern Ireland and we are just coming to the end of a 4 week lockdown. Shame our politicians can’t decide what to do next!

    • Yes they are Cathy. Our worst state, Victoria, got to over 700 per day,and went into lock down for 16 weeks. Their state leader knew exactly what to do. He withstood presure from the Fed govt saying this is not about politics but lives. The economy isn’t wonderful but it hasn’t fallen apart. People suffered but deaths were controlled. They’ve now had 12 days of no cases no deaths. My “state” has been fine after the small initial outbreak. I do wish you well.

  13. Well, in the U.S. we are largely running around like wild animals. Masks? “No, way! It’s my choice!” Social distancing? “No, I’m not doing that.” Staying home when sick? “Well, I’ve got to get to work, don’t I?” It’s insane. My county is currently pleading for people to stay home when they can and religious groups to meet virtually because the hospitals are turning people away. Schools going back and forth between e-Learning. Me constantly saying, “Please put your mask on, it’s a health mandate. Please stay 6 feet away from me, COVID still exists.” Haven’t seen my family since March. Haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March. Movie theaters closed. Bars totally open. Local college students partying, attending football games. My neighbor keeps trying to get in my face because she’s displeased that someone is parking in the apartment driveway (it’s an elderly woman who is handicap coming to visit her mother, who is dying). It’s just a hot mess. In my state, we are fully open with no limitations. I don’t see the U.S. doing a lock down again. People tried to kidnap a governor and take over the capital last time that happened.

    • Ah, Sue, got it! I thought it was a bit more than half an hour so discounted it. We overnighted there a couple of years ago and thought then we must go back, as it had been decades since we’d been there.

      • Might be 40 minutes Sue but it’s a pretty drive. Orange is pretty but B has nicer cafes and it’s friendlier! Orange is getting rather too busy for my liking – here too – seems to be happening everywhere!

  14. Here in France, it’s a bit like in the Netherlands.

    We’re in lockdown until December 1st but the schools remain open. My husband and I are working from home (100%), we’ve never had so many lunches together since we both started to work 24 years ago. He’s my new coffee break mate! 🙂

    The most important for me is that our son keeps going to his highschool. It’s easier to learn when you’re in class and at least he sees his friends and has a bit of normalcy.

    Otherwise: shops are closed unless they are necessary (food, phamarcies…), restaurants and bars are closed. No sport. No theatre. No cinema. No museum.
    We’re not allowed to walk farther than 1km from home and have to fill a permit to leave the house.

    I’m getting my second Lockdown haircut of the year, ie visible grey hair, longish hair that looks shabby. Soon I won’t be fit to be seen in visio conferences. 🙂

    I haven’t seen my parents since June and this year is taking a toll on them.

    I think the government is trying their best to save Christmas and family reunions. It’s probable that New Year’s celebrations won’t be allowed but honestly, I don’t care.

    Hospitals are almost full and the curb of contaminations is finally going down and in my region, it’s tougher than in March.

    We’ve all become experts in new KPIs: # hospitalizations, # people in recovery units, % of recovery units beds occupied, % of positivity in tests, value of the R ratio…

    Otherwise we’re doing good. We still have our jobs, nobody’s sick in the family. We try to keep in touch with family and friends with Zoom and Whatsapp. My fitness coach has started online classes again and of course, there’s the TBR! 🙂

    I believe that bookworms bloggers have that chance: our main hobby is lockdown compliant. 🙂

    Stay safe, all of you!

    • Thanks for sharing all this Emma. That’s pretty much what Melbourne had for 16 weeks or so, but schools were closed for most of that too. It’s tough about families not being able to visit. We haven’t seen or grandson in Melbourne since early March. That is tough, on us and his parents who enjoy the little breaks we give them.

      I say embrace the grey! That’s what I did. I coloured my hair once and decided it wasn’t for me. I love that your husband is your new coffee break mate. Do you work in separate rooms?

      I hope this works for you all. Do you think this sort of lockdown is the way to go? I know some do and some don’t.

      • I’ll wait to be a bit older to embrace the grey.
        We work in separate rooms, there’s no other way. We spend at least half of our time in conference calls.
        I’m not sure there’s another way than lockdown in democracies.
        Nobody would accept the surveillance implemented by the Chinese government. Especially not in France where we still have scars from WWII : the idea of a building chief that reports people and checks that rules are respected wouldn’t be accepted.

        • Yes, I realised after I asked the question that you’d be having conference calls so would have to be in different rooms. I think it’s been a challenge for people setting up multiple office spaces. I hear dining rooms have come in handy for this!

          Yes, I think lockdowns are probably the way, too, but they are tricky aren’t they.

  15. Wow, it sounds like heaven where you are! In Minnesota it is getting worse and worse. They are telling people to stay home for Thanksgiving next week and not have family gatherings. The governor is announcing today that Friday all gyms, theaters, museums, will close for 3 weeks and bars and restaurants will be takeout only. People are refusing to wear masks, keep distant, and stay home if they have a positive test. A healthcare worker in neighboring South Dakota said this week that she has patients who refuse to believe up to their last breath that they have COVID because it’s all a hoax. It’s quickly becoming a nightmare here. 😦

    • I’m so sorry go what you are all going through Stefanie. My Californian friend keeps me up to date with her area, quick is not as bad as some but still there are the mask wars etc there. We’ve seen that South Dakota nurse interview on a couple of programs too. Unbelievable that people dying still think it’s a hoax. W g at do they think they are dying of? The inability to think with any reasoning ability is breathtaking.

      Anyhow, Stef, please keep well and safe. Bookman too, and Waldo and the Dashwoods.

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