United we stand, but 1.5m apart

An empty Bourke St due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Courtesy: Tom Kelly

As COVID-19 spreads even further and continues to affect every inch of our lives, far more than any of us expected- a cloud of dread, uncertainty and impending doom has descended over Australia. The regular sense of excitement that would be in the air around upcoming school holidays is missing. The buzz and bustle of our beautiful cities have disappeared. The happy, smiling faces and the customary ‘hellos’ we exchange with strangers on the street or in the coffee shop- gone. All because of one tiny virus that none of us can see.  

In this time of darkness, it is almost expected that we look towards light, something to make this situation a little better and to cheer ourselves up. Over the past few weeks, one of the most watched and circulated videos is of the women fighting in the grocery store in Sydney over toilet paper. On a daily basis, we see and hear about the lack of toilet paper, pasta, salt, flour, hand sanitizer and other essential items on supermarket shelves around Australia. At first, we laughed about these things. We said, ‘who would be so crazy as to buy eight packs of toilet paper in one go?’. But then we saw it for ourselves and realized the implications of the coronavirus and the changes that will be brought to the Australian community.  

A video of two Australian women fighting over toilet paper went viral in March.

My whole life, I have seen Australia as a place that fosters respect, tolerance and community. We are known worldwide for our friendly demeanor, for the fundamental ‘Australian-ness’ ingrained in each of us.  

However, how has a virus, of all things, broken down our fundamental Australian values?

In recent weeks I have heard rumors, hoaxes, rumors of hoaxes. I have seen general disgruntlement, the cursing out of politicians and governments- but most of all, I have seen distrust in our institutions. And in these times, in the uncertainty of our current situation, it is more important than ever for us to stand together and have faith in our institutions. They are our best bet as we fight through this crisis.  

In recent weeks I have heard rumors, hoaxes, rumors of hoaxes. I have seen general disgruntlement, the cursing out of politicians and governments- but most of all, I have seen distrust in our institutions. And in these times, in the uncertainty of our current situation, it is more important than ever for us to stand together and have faith in our institutions. They are our best bet as we fight through this crisis.  

Healthcare professionals spreading the viral message: ‘we stay at work for you, please stay home for us’.

Yes, we are all making sacrifices in these times- giving up holidays, social distancing- but the frontline workers are the most vulnerable and are now subjected to an unprecedented rate of abuse on a daily basis. Nurses, doctors and other workers who keep our healthcare system running smoothly and efficiently. While we are busy attacking the decisions of these professionals, we forget to consider that before making decisions, health officials and researchers are looking at data, research and multiple perspectives. Much of which we probably wouldn’t even be able to comprehend. We, as the general public are entitled to our opinions, but before we refute key decisions like ones to keep schools open or closing the borders, we need to remember that the amount of study and experience these professionals have are tenfold the amount of ours in this area. Their hard work in this time needs to be valued, appreciated and above all: respected. ‘We stay at work for you. You stay home for us’. 

The empty supermarket shelves that many Australians were confronted by a few weeks ago. Courtesy: ABC

Another message that the government and other community leaders have continued to reiterate is to stop the frantic and unnecessary panic buying. Buying twenty rolls of toilet paper in one go won’t ‘wipe away’ the coronavirus. By doing so, we are just making the most vulnerable in our community even more vulnerable and susceptible. As Australians, we need to support others in these difficult times, not just live with an ‘each for his own’ mentality. It is not fair for the elderly, for the professionals, for the ones with different requirements who do not have as much access to basic facilities and will not be able to get to the supermarket at opening time to get the regular and bare necessities they need. It is also unfair for those who live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the buying power to stock groceries. Scott Morrison, regardless of whether you agree with his political beliefs, has hit the nail on the head: ‘it is un-Australian… It is not sensible, it is not helpful.. That is not who we are as a people.’ Our leaders have reiterated time and time again that there is no reason or need for panic buying, but the general mistrust of institutions has made it even harder to get these messages across.  

The more disbelieving we become of our institutions and as the mistrust increases, we are reducing the effectiveness of our nation’s response. At times like these, the saying ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ comes to mind- except of course, our ‘uniting’ can take place with a safe 1.5-meter distance between each person. At times like these, we need to stand together as Australians and protect our integrity. 

Panic buyers in the wild.
Courtesy: Sandra Hadly.

Buying twenty rolls of toilet paper at once won’t ‘wipe away’ the coronavirus.

As a fourteen-year old, I am seeing people who are my parent’s age rushing out to shops and buying an unnecessary amount of groceries. While many who are doing this are thinking about us and our health and wellbeing, they never stop to think of the kind of precedent they are setting for their children (us). They never stop to think, that if this pandemic had come twenty years later, they would be a part of the vulnerable group who are struggling to acquire basic needs from their local Coles or Woolies. They never stop to think that while my generation is often blamed for our political disillusionment, they are reflecting the very symptoms of disillusionment, in a time where it is more necessary than ever to listen to our institutions.  

This moment will go down in history. Future generations will sit in schools, learning about this phenomenon. Twenty years down the line, children will be tasked to do projects on the coronavirus pandemic and will come and ask you about it. They will ask you what it was like, what you did, how you dealt with it, how the pandemic affected your life. 

What would you like to tell them?

That in a panic, you brought ten bottles of hand sanitizer and twenty packets of pasta? Or that you had faith in your institutions and followed advice from the government and from health professionals? 

That you discriminated against people because of the colour of their skin? Or that you refuted the racist comments some people made and instead tried to bring hope to your family and friends in a constructive way? 

Discrimination against Asian-Australians began occurring more and more frequently. A third of these incidents occurred in public areas.
Courtesy: Lisa Maree Williams

That you abused staff at hospitals and at grocery stores? Or that you respected the decisions of the experienced and highly qualified nurses and doctors who are putting their own lives at risk in order to support the rest of the community?

Right now, right before our very eyes, history is being made.

What side of history do you want to be a part of?



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