It’s the height of Melbourne’s dreary, monotonous winter and we’re back in lockdown for the third time this year. I sit on the couch scrolling through Instagram posts where my friends back home in the US are ecstatically partying, making up for a year of lost time in the ominous shadow of a looming new Delta variant wave. I’m jealous of them, I’m scared for them and I miss them.
In general, the pandemic has been managed extremely well here. For several months earlier this year, it almost felt like we’d put the whole COVID thing behind us. But as the pandemic stretches to the 18-month mark, things are starting to look a little shaky.
Australia’s borders are still shut, unless you’re a rabid racist whose appearance on a reality show is seen as an economic benefit to the country, or a pro sports player. The federal government, who has mangled the vaccine rollout beyond all belief, says we’ll need most of the population vaccinated before borders open again. I have no idea when that will be.
This month, the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called in a favor to his friend on the board of Pfizer, convincing them to move up the delivery of some of their shots, which is apparently the best way to get crucial healthcare for millions of people. Still, the shots aren’t coming soon enough. An ongoing outbreak in Sydney wasn’t controlled with a lockdown early enough and though the case numbers are still low by most of the world’s standards, it’s now uncertain if they’ll be able to eradicate the highly transmissible Delta variant when less than 20% of the population is vaccinated, no matter how hard or long they lock down.
The virus hasn’t stayed in Sydney. In a series of events worthy of the Benny Hill theme, two movers drove from Sydney to Melbourne and sparked their own outbreak here within just a few hours. Quickly, we were back in fifth hard lockdown (only five reasons to leave the house, no travel outside a 5 km bubble, one outing for exercise for one hour each day, no house guests, masks mandatory everywhere) for a week and a half. It’s just now lifting.
The lockdown worked, and we’re back to zero cases out in the community. But if the outbreak in New South Wales doesn’t let up, it’s hard to imagine we’ll have much of a reprieve before we’re back to this, when the virus inevitably leaks over the state border again.
The last year and a half has progressed not in a changing of seasons, but in these cycles: in lockdown, out of lockdown. Time no longer feels linear. A friend of mine died in April, but the time before her death feels somehow closer to the present than what has happened since. With no ability to plan for the future, life just goes in circles.
The US, throughout the pandemic, has looked like a demented mirror image of whatever is going on here. Along with the opposite seasons, things seem to always improve here and get worse there at the same time, or vice versa. I sometimes feel that I’m the only one is aware of both worlds, like a medium who feels the presence of ghosts no one else can see. I tell my American family and friends about our triumphs and failures and remind people here that things could be much, much worse. In lockdown, especially, when the internet is the only portal to the outside world, it’s easy to feel that I don’t fully exist in either place. My small apartment, my cats, my partner—that’s all there is.
I’m afraid that the next spin of the wheel is coming, that something even worse is going to happen in the US while things slowly improve here. But things could still go very wrong for us as well. Other countries that were examples of COVID-19 success, like Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, are now dealing with outbreaks and lockdowns, due to their own lack of vaccines. It seems like a matter of time before we follow in their footsteps.
Ultimately, none of my feelings about this matter a bit. All I can do is read the news and wait, just like everyone else. I try to be grateful, even though I’m furious.
Amid this dull churn, there are sublime moments. Drinking a negroni made with the best local gin and watching gymnasts soar through the air just an hour behind us in Tokyo as it storms outside. My partner and I sitting in bed, laughing until we cry at a dumb TV show. The first time I see a friend in person after another lockdown. I know how lucky I am to be safe, to not have lost anyone in my family, to have a partner I love and a job I can do from home. I focus on these feelings whenever I can. I pet my cats. I walk around the block. I wait for things to change.