Quarantine diaries | Sydney: Bouncers, beaches and quarantine bouquets
Still recovering from bushfires, Australians are now finding their beloved beaches and outdoor activities barred to them
Autumn is one of my favourite seasons in Sydney, my home for two decades. Bright skies, a gentle sea breeze and the sun’s mellow warmth provide the perfect setting for outdoor barbecues, picnics and cultural events. But just as new shoots were appearing on the charred landscape after a prolonged spring-summer of bushfires, Covid-19 put a full stop to life as we know it.
A near total flight ban has fortified the island continent. A friend has sleepless nights as she awaits her daughter’s return from Nepal. Another, who was in London, is ecstatic about getting a confirmed flight, even if it means returning to “home arrest".
Working from home is the new norm, and it requires discipline and time management, skills that I have mastered over years of working as a foreign correspondent and freelance journalist. One friend is happy to have more time with the family as he doesn’t have to commute 2 hours each day. Another is struggling with slow internet to meet deadlines. For me, it has been a time of self-introspection, and connecting with neighbours I had only waved at.
A friend, who lives near the world-renowned Bondi beach, told me that people working from home were taking short breaks to go swimming or surfing. A rejuvenating exercise in these times of gloom. Australians love the beach and the bush. But now many of the beaches have been closed after thousands violated the social distancing order.
Sport is a big part of most people’s lives and post-match drinks in a pub with mates are a ritual. But with most major sporting fixtures suspended and pubs closed, it has been eerily quiet. Living next door to the Sydney Cricket Ground, I miss the loud cheers and festivities I had gotten used to.
Financially, not only is the tourism industry suffering, traders, small businesses and casual workers are all anxious. “Are you not afraid of corona?" asked a South American student who helps me weekly with household chores. Most of her other clients have asked her not to come. She is devastated that her meagre earnings will be further reduced.
Businesses are adapting. A florist friend told me that with restrictions in place, many people were sending “quarantine bouquets" to aged-care homes to show elderly relatives that the family is thinking of them.
Fear and panic have led people to hoard, leading to acute shortages. The owner of the local Indian grocery store had to ask his son to act as a bouncer to control shoppers. With toilet paper running out at supermarkets, many are now thinking of the good old Indian way of washing. If anything, it augurs well for the environment. We will certainly have to change and reinvent the way we live and do things in the post-Covid-19 world.
Neena Bhandari is a foreign correspondent and travel writer living in Sydney.