Cultural Musings

Restrictions are lifting. Why does that feel so scary?

Reviewed by

Team Kin

My Instagram feed is full of brunch again.

For months it’s been nothing but sourdough starters and puzzles. But the moment restrictions began to lift in Australia, suddenly it was all about Eggs Benedict, smashed avos and chai lattes. From actual, real-life, out-in-the-world cafes.

Perhaps it’s a matter of being caught up in my own anxious, introverted bubble, but I’ve been startled to see so many people immediately seize the opportunity to get out and about. It all feels too much, too soon. Sure, politicians have said it’s okay to leave the house – in limited numbers, in limited ways. But I assumed just because we could, it didn’t mean we would.

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I get it, I do. Everyone is over isolation. It’s awful and tedious. Social distancing is annoying and often painful. And hey, we’re supposed to be supporting local businesses, right?

The numbers, of course, are promising. Australia’s total number of active COVID-19 cases is dropping, with new cases, for the most part, rising by far less than we saw three months ago. Our curve has flattened. There’s a reason restrictions are lifting. And yet we’re still not totally safe. COVID-19 is still here. There’s so much about it that remains unknown. We are a long way off from a vaccine – if one is coming at all.

And there’s also the numbers that are less promising. Like the hundred primary school kids going back into quarantine within days of returning to school. Like the spike in cases in South Korea – a country that had flattened the curve and eased restrictions. Like the thousands of Australians who died in the second wave of the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, after social distancing restrictions similar to those we’ve been under were lifted because it was deemed safe. It was not.

When Australia first went into lockdown, Scott Morrison talked about being in this for the long haul. Up to six months, he said. In a third of that time he declared we were getting an “early mark”. Like we’d all got the homework in on time and packed our chairs up on our desks like good little kids. Like the problem was over.

Rather than feeling relieved, I only feel more anxious. We’d just gotten used to a new normal, and now we have to face another one. One that feels much less safe and secure. Because as terrible as isolation is – and it is, in so many ways – there’s also a comfort in it. It’s been a cocoon I’m not quite ready to leave.

I have made tentative steps out. I saw my family for the first time in months to celebrate my birthday. It was wonderful, and also scary. At the back of my mind, I worried about putting my parents’ and grandparents’ lives at risk for the sake of some cake.

I went to a bar – a bar! – for a friend’s birthday. It was mostly empty. We sanitised our hands when we entered and before we ate. A shot of tequila sanitised my nerves. I had a good time. But it still felt somehow wrong.

Am I overreacting? Are others under-reacting? I don’t know for sure, but I sense it’s a bit of both. I’m not judging or begrudging anyone their brunches or their bar visits. I’m just scared.

The world has become a terrifying place in 2020. Well, more terrifying than it was before, at least. Every social interaction now feels fraught. I can’t wait for the day when a hug won’t feel dangerous, and a trip to the shops won’t require an extensive disinfectant routine.

But that day still seems so far away. It’s in the after, and we’re still in the in between. I don’t know how long it will last, but I do know doing too much too soon will only prolong it.

We can’t be cautious forever. But for now, in the midst of a pandemic, being cocooned at home for a little while longer doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be.