Bondi beach is an icon. It’s one of the first places people visit when they tour Sydney. It’s known to be busy at all times. In mid-winter, you can find people jogging along its famous cliff walk, trailing along the edge of the sea.
Today, the beach is closed. The cliff walk is closed. The locals are stuck at home and there is an eery silence in the air. If the current crisis has an Australian image, this is it. An empty beach at the end of summer. A lack of sunbathers during the final days of summer sun.
The city is no different. The only people populating the sidewalk are delivery drivers, policemen and joggers. If a post-apocalyptic movie had joggers as the victors, this would be the result. They fill up the parks and nature walks. Some are office workers, now without an office. Some are gym junkies, now without a gym. All are scared of each other. They leap a clear meter out of the way if anyone gets too close. Still, there is a smugness. Finally, they have the roads to themselves.
The city is unrecognisable but the culture remains the same. Australia has long dealt with a rugged individualism, part English, part American. The papers are urging a community sentiment of togetherness. The academics are saying that no such sentiment has ever existed here. Instead, they argue, we should talk about individual responsibility. What should the individual do? How can we, as individuals, change our behaviours?
A few weeks into the crisis, my own individual responsibilities changed. I was re-assigned from my normal government day job into a COVID-19 task force. Now I’m trying to help secure medical supplies. They will help keep people alive and un-infected.
These are tough times for securing supplies. Every country on the planet wants the same things. In Ireland, Bono is on the job, trying to secure supplies direct from South Korea. For this brief moment in time, I am doing the same job as Bono. That is how upside down the world has become.
On a more serious note, the current crisis runs the risk of getting seriously worse if medical supplies are not secured. Doctors rely on various sterile items, including masks, to prevent the spread of infection. But the crisis has underlined a massive undersupply of medical equipment across the global, leading to international competition between countries for the same resources. At a moment when we should be coming together, there is a lot driving us further apart.