Here in Melbourne, Victoria, we entered a forth lockdown on 27 May 2021. Like the previous 'snap' lockdown in February, it caught me by surprise. Life seemed to have resumed full momentum by May and although I knew winter was approaching, we appeared to have been in control of any locally spread cases, with the quarantine system for returned travellers seemingly refined and robust enough to shelter the wider community against new transmissions.
Things changed abruptly, almost imperceptibly.
The Tuesday prior to the lockdown I was speaking with my employer about fixed and regular days back in the office, but by the end of the week it was back to the home office for an indefinite stretch. Up to that point, I'd been spending a couple of days each week back in the office and to be honest, it was strange at first, but becoming enjoyable. Some routine that got me out of the house and out of my comfort zone felt refreshing. It was good to see old colleagues and meet the new ones that I had yet to meet in the real, face to face world. This all led to good exchanges and a reminder that a balance between working remotely and seeing people is a good thing for me.
The new routine was exhausting at first, however. The logistics of getting ready and commuting for an hour each way was a lost dynamic. Although it was tough and time consuming, there was a sense that it was getting easier by the week and although commuting seems like 'wasted' time to many, it was a good way to decompress in a non-work/non-home space – like bookends of each day.
We were then suddenly in another lockdown. It was: 'don't leave home unless for these five reasons...', and 'don't move further than 5km from your home'. It was hard to process. We'd been here before and it was familiar ground, but so, so hard to absorb and accept. Is this it? Facing these cold, overcast, short winter days glued to the numbers and fearful of every sniffle and rasp of the throat? Somewhere inside myself I felt angry, confused, anxious, in despair. Why is this happening again?
A few days before the lockdown started, I'd read a newspaper article about the vaccine role out. It said that the mass vaccination centres were so quiet that they were actually accepting under 50-year olds for the AstraZeneca jab. This was backed up anecdotally by reports on Twitter of those who had walked up and been vaccinated. I'd known some of these people personally so decided to give it a go. I was too late. There had been a shift in the social consciousness and demand was increasing. I was turned away in no uncertain terms after having queued, expectantly, for about 45 minutes during my lunch break. It felt humiliating and I was deeply disappointed as I had always felt the 1 in 100,000 risk of getting blood clots was worth taking, and one I was willing to accept. I felt that as an adult, this choice should be open to me. I also know that we are able to, and are manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine onshore in Australia, so the supply is less of an issue than other vaccines, particularly those for which we don't have the manufacturing and distribution capability.
Then there were reports – as the numbers escalated – that the virus was back in our aged care facilities; and that many aged care residents, and the majority of carers and those who work in the sector were still unvaccinated. I was incensed. How could this be possible? Why were the willing standing by, unable to be vaccinated all this time, while those who were eligible weren't taking it up, and for those for whom it should have been mandatory, nothing had been done?
Work charged forward and at least I was able to throw myself at something to avoid many of the emotions that were eating away at me within. Is it better to face these things head on; or step away from them and let time help with their processing? I don't know the answer. While I have work, and I am very grateful for this, the worst thing is knowing the suffering that so many are going through right now. The outright despair at not being able to work and provide for themselves or their families; the casual workers with no protections; the end of government support. The return to the city had been harrowing in seeing the empty shopfronts and knowing that the vast exodus of people over the previous year had pushed these business owners over the edge. I also know and acknowledge the very fine line that separates my own situation from this harsh reality. And although not yet completely clear, this ‘burden’ of knowing the collective suffering and feeling of guilt must be a big factor in how low this lockdown makes me feel.
There is an absurdity to the social arrangements that we live under and this pandemic amplified this. We as a species can solve incredibly complex problems with science, and yet we can't seem to figure out how to equitably distribute the essentials that we need, nor insulate from "the market", our enduring and irrefutable necessities of universal access to health and education. We live in a system that does not work for us, it is us who work for this system. Now, as before, it is the accumulation and preservation of capital that remains paramount in our arrangements. As Skeggs aptly asked: 'Is anything beyond the logic of capital?'* This arrangement is so deeply etched in our collective psyche that it is unquestioned and accepted by many, yet it’s a social arrangement that both dismisses and requires profound injustices. Fundamentally, we are subservient and continue to endure a key foundational premise of this arrangement: that some deserve access to human needs and others don't.
If anything, the pandemic intensifies the absurd contradictions of our social order. Even if the majority no longer have the means to pay the bills by reason of the fact that exchange can no longer occur, the requirement to pay these bills is beyond question. While the government could offer some support, it did so temporarily and at a price that will be paid by future generations – our children and grandchildren. This therefore demonstrates clearly that a considerable motivation of government intervention is the maintenance of the status quo: the protection of the value of capital. To suspend, nullify or provide an economic amnesty to society during the period when people cannot work would cause the collapse of capital, therefore this cannot be considered by those for whom the preservation of our current social order is essential.