I’ve spent the past 24 hours jumping at phone alerts and periodically Googling “NSW covid” and “Victoria border restrictions.”
I’m in Sydney for the week and was planning to stay until Sunday. But after the discovery of a mystery coronavirus case in the community, I’m trying to work out whether I need to head back to Melbourne sooner to get ahead of a possible border closure.
It’s not a life-or-death decision, but I’m loath to give up the weekend I was supposed to spend with my parents (the guilt trip I’ll get for missing Mother’s Day will be subtle but significant). However, I’ve got work commitments in Melbourne next week that I can’t miss.
There are no clear metrics for when and how states decide to enforce border restrictions. As the authorities keep stressing, every outbreak is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
I do the calculations in my head: New South Wales recorded no new infections on Friday. Queensland and Western Australia have only enacted border measures for New South Wales travelers who’ve visited hot spots. All of the mystery case’s close contacts have tested negative, sans one.
But on the other hand, the list of exposure sites keeps growing. We still haven’t found the missing link between the infected man and the originating case in hotel quarantine. New Zealand has paused the trans-Tasman bubble with New South Wales for 48 hours.
If there’s an announcement, will I have enough time to book a flight? Will there still be flights left to book?
It adds up to a whole lot of uncertainty. And following closely on its heels, annoyance.
This is a regular occurrence by now. The coronavirus escapes hotel quarantine, the state locks down or puts restrictions in place, and other states enforce border restrictions. Travelers scramble, and businesses bemoan the hit to their profits.
There are some differences this time. Unlike the Perth outbreak two weeks ago, most states haven’t enacted hard border closures with New South Wales. But for the most part, it feels like we’re having the same conversations again and again without gaining much ground. How do we stop coronavirus from leaking out of hotel quarantine? Is the virus airborne? Do we need purpose-built facilities? Are state borders closures an overreaction?
These outbreaks should be getting less significant as more Australians get vaccinated. But that is also a slow and ungainly process, according to experts, in part because we’ve gotten complacent. We’ve dealt so well with the virus that there’s no urgency about inoculating the population.
Some people I’ve spoken to who became eligible for the vaccine this week as part of phase 2A have expressed exactly that sentiment: We might as well wait a bit longer, just in case. It won’t make a big difference to us, here, either way.
Some days, it feels like the pandemic, at least in Australia, is a thing of the past. In Melbourne, I’d noticed more and more people forgoing their mandated masks on public transport. Even I’ve been getting slack about checking in at venues. But the past few days have been another reminder that things we used to take for granted, like free movement between states, still aren’t guaranteed.
Now for this week’s stories: