Notes from the Lockdowns: Phase 4 of Coronavirus Roadmap

Pemberton, Western Australia
Pemberton, Western Australia

I went to the gym for the first time yesterday after many months of relying on home exercises and running outdoors. When it rains sideways during the cold months, access to a gym is somehow a blessing, and it’s great to observe that people are careful about maintaining enough space amongst themselves and are cleaning equipment after each use.

Phase 4 of the state’s Coronavirus roadmap started on 27 June. At this phase, residents and businesses in Western Australia enjoy fewer restrictions on movements and social gatherings during the pandemic :

  • all existing gathering limits and the 100/300 rule removed
  • gathering limits only determined by WA’s reduced 2 square metre rule
  • the 2 square metre rule will only include staff at venues that hold more than 500 patrons
  • removal of seated service requirements at food businesses and licensed premises
  • no requirement to maintain patron register at food businesses and licensed premises
  • alcohol can be served as part of unseated service arrangements
  • all events permitted except for large scale, multi-stage music festivals
  • unseated performances permitted at venues such as concert halls, live music venues, bars, pubs and nightclubs
  • gyms operating unstaffed, but regular cleaning must be maintained
  • the casino gaming floor reopening under agreed temporary restrictions.

When restrictions were further eased by the state government, we were already on a much awaited holiday down in Pemberton, some 5 hours’ drive south of Perth. On a side note, this is one place I wish I could bring loved ones and friends to. Nothing beats a WA road trip!

We had initially planned a two-week vacation in Malaysia for March, but when it became obvious that the infections weren’t slowing, we had the inkling that we might have to cancel our travel plans. Then, when the Federal government advised Australian citizens and permanent residents to forego international travel, as well as for those abroad to make their way back to the country as soon as possible, we knew that we had to cancel all bookings. More than that, we knew that closing off borders and a full lockdown were just around the corner.

We recovered hotel fees, but Singapore Airlines only gave us travel vouchers that we could use within 24 months, assuming the pandemic was gone by next year.

Since March, people in WA have been living in a country within a country, a state closed off within an island country itself. However, it is difficult to find fault in the strategy adopted by both Federal (i.e. national) and State governments in combatting the spread of Covid-19, particularly in a state that has among the highest proportion of vulnerable populations anywhere; it is home to a culture that is at least 60,000 years old after all and one whose genes is known to be regressive. Geography has always worked in Australia’s favour in times of global crisis.

The strategy also worked: on lockdown for more than 8 weeks, West Australians managed to keep the infections at bay and avoided the fiascos that plagued the eastern states, such as the Ruby Princess snafu and the resurgence of Covid infections in Melbourne. We may have appeared to be overly cautious for keeping non-residents away, but we would not have been enjoying more freedoms and further economic activities if we hadn’t made those decisions. It wasn’t easy for everyone, but it was necessary.

So far during Phase 4, we have been able to travel, shop, ride public transport that now runs on regular schedules, go to cafes and restaurants, welcome guests to our homes, and for many, return to offices. What also made the difference apart from strict implementation of social distancing and closing off borders is the mindset that people have around the pandemic: one would hardly find anyone who thought that Covid-19 wasn’t real, that it was unnecessary to socially distance or observe sanitary practices. In this country of 26 million and a state of less than 3 million, triple-digit infections means shutting down entire suburbs and cities and prompting testing and contact tracing blitz.

I am expecting to be back at the office by the last week of August in time for a quality management audit which I have been working on for the past 12 months. However, even then, I do not expect to spend all of my working hours in a confined space with 30 or so other people, as much as I miss my old routine.

Notes from the lockdowns: politics is a matter of life and death

The roadmap to recovery: 3 stages of easing social distancing restrictions across Western Australia as the state emerges from Covid-19 pandemic

We are starting Stage 2 of the Covid-19 roadmap on Monday, 18 May, which essentially means fewer restrictions on our movements and on the number of people who can gather for non-work activities in public. While hundreds of thousands of Australians are still out of jobs due to the lockdowns, people are still recovering from the virus or succumb to the disease, we fared considerably much better than a lot of other countries, thanks to a combination of luck and measures implemented early enough to prevent the uncontrollable spread of the coronavirus in Australia.

As an immigrant, it breaks my heart each time I read of how the current government has been mismanaging just about everything back in the Philippines, and it worries me the most when my family tells me of the many hurdles they have to go through just to stock up on basic supplies. Before the easing of restrictions started at least in the capital, Luzon island was in near complete lockdown and only select members of households are allowed to step out to purchase essential items on certain days of the week. In a developing country of 108 million people, doing anything quickly and efficiently is still a pipe dream, so one could only imagine the hours people spend waiting in long lines to purchase limited food items. That is, if people can afford to in the first place.

I count my family still lucky, but the millions who depend on daily wages to survive are the ones who have it unimaginably difficult: if they don’t work, they don’t eat; most live in cramped quarters in depressed communities where sanitation is rare if not unheard of. Unfortunately, the national government is more keen to jail “violators” of the lockdowns instead of focusing on softening the impact of the pandemic on the population. Worse still, local leaders who had the initiative to give provisions to their constituents and charitable work espoused by the vice-president to give much needed support to health workers were threatened with criminal probes or cases because they were “competing” with the national government.

Living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet puts into focus just how privileged and absolutely lucky I have found myself, yet I also can’t help but shake my head in horror at the news of tens of thousands of infections and deaths happening in other parts of the world. As of this writing, there have only been 98 deaths in Australia, yet while it is 98 deaths too many, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the figures reported in Italy, Spain and the UK, or the 100 thousand deaths projected in the United States.

We cannot chalk up the early flattening of the curve and the much fewer deaths from Covid-19 to Australia’s wealth alone; geography has always been this country’s first line of defence whenever global threats occur. And while not everything is smooth sailing, social safety nets proved invaluable in the time of coronavirus. Thus, this country has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 testing in the world at no cost to the individual. Moreover, getting hospitalised for Covid-19 will not result in bankruptcy, thanks to publicly funded healthcare. I don’t think if the same can be said for the United States which is currently far and away copping the worst of the pandemic, for obvious reasons.

Perhaps the biggest difference in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in this country is due to leadership: Australian leaders banded across party lines to face the most pressing issues of the day and responded based on reliable information and expert advice. And the experts? They have been involved since the earliest stages of the pandemic to provide guidance to decision-makers; thus, social distancing measures, border closures, staggered rolling out of lockdowns, and daily national and state press briefings were implemented early. When the jobs losses began, the government extended much needed lifeline to qualified recipients and protections were put in place to shield renters from evictions. Being a permanent resident is one of the first qualifications I have to these safety nets and it’s hard to imagine now how difficult it would have been for me if the infections happened 3 or 4 years ago when I was on a temporary visa.

As people engaged in panic buying of tissue paper, food items, electronics, home office equipment, and other essentials, plans were made to ensure supplies reached the shops. And although law enforcers were given more authority to implement rules and fine individuals for non-compliance on the spot, the public also knew their rights and responsibilities. The messaging provided by the WA’s Premiere (equal to a governor in other countries) and his team are some of the best, definitive, and sometimes entertaining that I’ve ever seen. Leadership is not only a matter of doing what is right, it is also communicating it effectively.

This sits in stark contrast to the deranged ramblings coming from the old man in Malacanang, of accounts of hunger and hardships that emerged out of poorly planned public quarantines, and of human rights violations borne by a culture of corruption back home: you cannot expect people to stay home unless by fear of violence or death if they have nothing to eat. Petty tyranny flies in the face of hunger and a crumbling public health system that produces some of the lowest and slowest Covid-19 testing rates in the world, so slow test results for so many people arrive days after they have already died from the virus.

Tell me again how politics is not a matter of life and death. Whoever said “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” must have seen these days coming.

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