By now, most states and territories have begun slowly rolling back the movement restrictions that were put in place to aid the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Victoria, one of the most ardent holdouts, is now permitting groups of up to 5 people to go visit friends and family. The likely result of that is, come this weekend, we’ll be seeing a significant rise in the amount of people travelling around and moving between houses, which officials will nervously monitor for any subsequent spikes in cases of COVID-19.
At that same time, the public has been urged to maintain social distancing and hygiene measures; proper washing of hands, maintaining 1.5 metres of distance between bodies, and so on.
Huge amounts of people, if they haven’t already, will soon be visiting family; most of whom they haven’t seen since March. I won’t be.
A Tasmanian born and raised, I made the choice around 9 years ago to move to Melbourne. All of my family – every single one of them – remains in Tassie. I haven’t been back since Christmas, and there’s no telling when I’ll be able to go again.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein effectively closed the Tasmanian borders on March 19th, forcing all non-essential travellers – even returning Tasmanian residents – to go into a fourteen-day self-quarantine. There was no option to rush back to Tasmania to ride out the isolation period for me. My house, my partner, my cat, my job (which we’re now all doing at home) is all in Melbourne. And at that stage I myself was on day four of a voluntary isolation period after returning from a work-related trip. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t leave.
As anyone who’s moved interstate, away from their home town, knows, a big mitigating factor in making that move is the idea that, at any time, you could be home in a handful of hours if you needed to be. If something went horribly wrong, if someone fell ill, if something joyous happened, if something needed to be celebrated, or even if you just needed to or felt like it, you could pick yourself up and go.
When you move interstate, you’re committing to viewing your old life – and the family and friends contained in it – through a series of windows. You get a peek back at it every so often. The odd glimpse here and there. Time becomes a strobe light, showing you only one out of four or five frames.
But it’s ok, you think. You can reconcile it. Because the option to shoot off whenever you needed to was always there.
And then it wasn’t.
It’s easy enough for every bank or car or motor union ad blinking across the TV to spout “we’re all in this together.” But realistically, we’re not. One person making the responsible choice doesn’t sway the herd. I can stay at home for a 10th week in a row trying to 100% Crash Bandicoot for a third time, but Barkly Square’s common walkways will still be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder come Saturday.
Tasmania has now had five days in a row with no new recorded cases. The total of active remaining cases in the state now sits at 27. Victoria, on the other hand, is battling two cluster outbreaks; one centred at a meat works, the other at a McDonald’s.
That’s how it happens.
Restrictions get loosened. People get complacent. You go to one small house party on Friday. You go to another on Saturday. People start relaxing around one another. Someone chucks out a high five. You sink some piss. You hug each other. You forget to social distance because it’ll be fine, it’s not going to happen to you, the worst is over.
But at one of the gatherings, one of the literal thousands of them, someone is an asymptomatic carrier of coronavirus. It gets passed around to everyone there. And then those people spread. A cluster forms. A new breakout occurs. We all collectively take a half step backwards.
Even according to the Federal Government’s own three-step framework, domestic travel between states isn’t likely until at least July. That’s in a best case scenario. That’s assuming state leaders permit it. That’s in a scenario where a massive state like Victoria controls its number of daily new cases for long enough that hyper-vigilant Tasmania considers lifting its quarantine requirements for arriving travellers.
That’s what’s required for me to be able to go see my Mum and Dad, my sister, my Nan, my cousins, their kids, everyone. That’s what’s needed to stop the geographical gap from feeling so very daunting. That’s the scenario scores of people are also facing right now.
It’s one that’s reliant – almost entirely – not on us being in it together, but on millions of people all individually making a choice. Which is really very scary.
All this is not to say those who can shouldn’t visit friends or family. Really, quite the opposite.
Just maybe consider not being fucking stupid about it.
A lot of people, like me, are desperately depending on it.Image: AAP