Not again! It’s fine to be grumpy – and to distract yourself, too

This feels familiar but different. This is our fourth “lockdown” – how that word rolls off the tongue – so we know what we have to do. “Four reasons to leave your home” have become “five” with the addition that we may leave home to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Schools move to remote learning. No crowds at the footy. Compulsory masks. Takeaway meals only. Two hours of exercise, blah blah blah. I am dutifully watching the daily press conferences again, but without anticipation.

It feels different because there’s a heaviness this time, at least for me, probably because many of us were starting to live a fairly normal life. Our office at The Age had its buzz back. I was complaining about the traffic. I was looking forward to my niece’s wedding in Brisbane next month, a celebration she and her fiance were forced to cancel last year because of the pandemic. The economy and employment growth have bounced back better than expected so, while the pandemic’s impact has been significant, the pain might not prove as lingering as we once feared.

The blow of this lockdown seems somehow worse than it should, given it’s just seven days, and other states have had “circuit breakers” for a few days that have worked to halt the spread of the virus. Few are arguing what the state government did was an overreaction, as unwelcome as it was. And at least this sudden outbreak woke some of us up from the foolishness of imagining we didn’t need to get vaccinated now because Australia had few cases. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that we’re now racing to get the jab.

We are fortunate that scientists managed to expedite the development of a vaccination for COVID-19. There are blessings too, in reminding ourselves how lucky many of us are. I am working at home from my kitchen table, along with my husband, adult daughter and her partner – it is rather cramped – and I am fortunate to have a job. What about casual workers who have just lost seven days’ pay? What about small business owners, cafes, shops, restaurants, gyms, this time without the help of the JobKeeper subsidy? The government has promised a business support package, but I wonder how many businesses will give up this time.

It’s not quite Groundhog Day, but like the five-day shutdown in February or the months of lockdown last winter, anyone playing politics with this will be spurned. Still, journalists will be “backgrounded” by political operatives attempting to shift or impose blame. There are questions to be asked nonetheless and, like last time no doubt, The Age will be accused of undermining public health messages if our journalists ask them.

We will cop that. There is a balance to be struck, although in truth covering this story should involve nothing but standard journalistic principles – be fair, be accurate and don’t be captured by anyone. Our state political editor Annika Smethurst put it well. The Victorian government can blame the federal government for the pace of the vaccine program, which has “been a total cock-up. The Commonwealth placed its orders late, the messaging has been appalling and there were initial problems with supplies”.

“But suggesting that this is the cause of the lockdown gives us all false hope that the COVID-19 jab will eliminate the need for other defences from the virus,” she wrote.

As Annika pointed out, more effective vaccination programs overseas have not eliminated the need for restrictions and lockdowns. Look at Singapore, where 28 per cent of the population are fully immunised, and it is in the middle of a four-week lockdown.

Also, even with the strongest vaccination rates and a better quarantine system not reliant on hotels, “we also need to constantly shine a spotlight on state defences such as contact tracing and testing”. We are told that our contact tracing system is “gold standard” – and most experts say it is vastly improved from last year – but this outbreak has gotten away from us.

In the depths of 2020, The Age published a coronavirus live blog for nearly 150 days straight. It was expensive, but we felt that it was our duty to inform our community, and we made it free for all readers, subscribers or not. We have started our live blog again, and it has been enormously popular. Still, I hope it runs only for seven days.

I am old enough to know that trying to resist anxiety, to tell ourselves that “we’ve got this” doesn’t work. Better to acknowledge it and don’t be too hard on ourselves if we feel sad or worried. If you don’t believe me, journalist Sophie Aubrey talked to some people with expertise who had tips about getting through lockdown this time. It’s worth a read.

I am telling myself it’s fine to embrace distraction. I am looking forward to the final episode of Mare of Easttown on Monday, a crime series starring a splendid Kate Winslet. Here’s a piece pondering, Who Killed Erin?

Our culture team has put together the best TV shows over the past six months.

Love or hate the Archibald Prize, you can browse the finalists.

Follow our lockdown diaries.

Discover the history and meaning of “mate” in Australia.

Watch the football and follow our live coverage.

Do whatever gets you through the next seven days. See you on the other side.

Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor.

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