Twenty twenty has been a write off, wanting to scrap the entire year to start again from January 1st is completely understandable. In Australia we have had drought, fire, flooding and then of course the Covid 19 pandemic. It has been horrible, predictable to some extent due to our continued impacts on the natural world but none the less horrible. The lockdown as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been particularly difficult for many, yet as arduous as it has been the majority of us have accepted the necessity of it and struggled through as best we can.
As we inch forward through an extended lockdown in metro Melbourne and regional Victoria, which has been much more difficult for those in metro Melbourne by some order of magnitude, there does appear on the horizon a faint flickering light, a glimmer of hope. Restrictions have begun to ease, step one of reopening began for metro Melbourne on the 14th of September. On the same day regional Victoria entered step two.
Regional Victoria will move to step three on September 17th, removing restrictions around leaving the home, opening schools, hospo and retail. Metro Melbourne may reach the same stage by the end of october, if case numbers come down. The gradual easing of restrictions is encouraging, the new covid normal on the other hand raises questions.
There is no set date for when the Covid Normal we are being sold will begin, it is completely case number driven. I don’t take issue with that, I can understand data driven outcomes, especially when it comes to saving lives. Just as I don’t bemoan the mandatory wearing of masks, sure it might be a little uncomfortable but it won’t kill me, it won’t make me more susceptible to infection and it certainly won’t cause hypoxia as some people have been trying to assert. Nor do I lament not being able to visit my adult children and friends, again while this is not optimal for humans, being social creatures, it is understandable and does save lives. Just as the closing of the broad economy saves lives, yes that step also makes life much more onerous, yet what it should inspire is conversation about fundamental change to our economic system in the direction of increasing support to all people not demanding we get back to “normal”.
To get to Covid normal in Victoria, the new normal we are all being sold, will require there are no new or active cases state wide for twenty eight days and no outbreaks of concern throughout the rest of Australia. A demanding benchmark to be sure. The payoff though is no restrictions on leaving the home or visiting each other. It also sees the hospitality sector and retail reopen. This drive to reach the new Covid normal shows we have failed to learn anything from this experience about our impacts on the natural world with respect to retail and the economy. All the actions which cause destructive outcomes on our environment, and make no mistake increase the likelihood of pandemics, floods, droughts and wildfires are championed again, while the underlying system which demands these actions remains fundamentally unquestioned.
The new Covid normal also has a cost, after we manage twenty eight days with no new cases and no active cases we are expected to register our attendance at public gatherings, funerals, weddings, galleries, museums and other entertainment venues. The new covid normal feels like a surveillance state with no end date.
The question arises, why? Why monitor who goes where after we have gone a month without a single case? The new covid normal should not be about tracking the activities of people, it should be about looking at causality, about addressing the elephant in the room, about fundamentally changing our economy to reduce harm and improve outcomes for both the environment and life. Then we might be able to address the cause of inequality, deprivation, starvation, poverty, climate change, increased risk of pandemics and our atrocious levels of pollution.
Or we embrace the new covid normal, sigh with relief, register for our activities and wait for the next pathogen to expose the glaring inadequacies with our economy and entire social orientation.