Samuel Pepys: June 10, 1665
In the evening home to supper, and there to my great trouble hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett in Fenchurch street – which in both points troubles me mightily.
June 10, 2020
We seem to be emerging from COVID19, at least in Australia (and in New Zealand they are COVID-free, so well done to them!). The schools are back, to the huge relief of the parents I know. And people here on the Bellarine seem to have almost completely ended physical distancing. There are still signs at some shops about how many people can enter, and lines on the ground to mark out 1.5 or 2 metres. But people are sitting down in cafes; cafes are using disposable cups again; masks seem to have almost disappeared. Yesterday, when I went shopping, I saw only one person wearing a mask, a man in his 80s or 90s.
Last weekend was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Long weekends mean nothing to me because I am usually working on Sunday, so I never get the chance to go anywhere. I had completely forgotten about this one until I went to Queenscliff on Sunday afternoon and found it overrun with holiday-makers. I’ve got used to the Bellarine being quieter than usual during the lockdown, but that is obviously over. Cars and people everywhere; shops packed; no masks to be seen. I stayed a little while and bought some books, but then I got out of there because it just didn’t feel safe. I’ve got so used to physical distancing that being part of a crowd made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. It’s obviously going to take a while for me to feel ‘normal’.
After all, COVID19 hasn’t been eliminated yet. The church where I’m working can’t yet gather on-site because we aren’t yet at Step Three, when 100 people will be able to congregate together. We don’t yet have a vaccine. The Bellarine has felt safely isolated over the past few months; I looked at the holiday-makers on Sunday and thought, “they’ll be bringing their Melbourne germs with them!” Which is very unfair, since Melbourne people presumably aren’t any more dangerous than locals, and tourist towns like Queenscliff need their business. But their presence felt dangerous.
And last weekend there were also massive #BlackLivesMatter rallies all around the country. I couldn’t attend the one in Melbourne because I had another commitment, but what I saw on television was a crowd of people in masks, sharing hand sanitiser and trying to physically distance. But there were thousands gathered together, and that looked dangerous, too.
I am afraid of another outbreak from one or both of these; the #BlackLivesMatter rallies and the June Long Weekend travellers. The media and the politicians, of course, are only talking about the former. How selfish, they pontificate, of people to take to the streets to protest the ongoing systematic murder of Indigenous people in custody, thirty years after the Royal Commission. There are better ways to protest, they cry. The trouble is that, as we know, while there are other ways to call for change, if there isn’t broad public support, shown by people taking to the streets, those cries for change are ignored. Of course, even when there is a huge public outcry, as there was against the Iraq War, against the mandatory offshore detention of asylum seekers, and in favour of action on the #ClimateEmergency, governments can still ignore the vox populi. But it’s certain that change doesn’t happen without it.
If there is a second wave in a fortnight, politicians will blame the marchers, and use that to undermine the justice of their cause. As we’ve seen, even when COVID19 is prevalent in wealthier suburbs, it’s not the wealthy who are blamed for spreading it, and it’s not those suburbs that are policed. A second-wave isn’t going to be blamed on holiday-makers.