Iso-Life is ending and I miss it already.
A week or so ago some of the restrictions were relaxed here in Victoria. Playgrounds opened again, you can have small groups of visitors around to your house. In light of the apparently well-controlled Covid caseload here, as well as the escalating difficulty of keeping people at home, this makes medical, psychological, economic and political sense.
But I still really miss iso. Of course I was unusual in that I still went to work outside the home, so I wasn’t as isolated as many. But I am naturally monastic by nature, so being cooped up inside with lots of books is no burden for me. I liked not being obliged to rush around doing things. I loved the lack of traffic on the roads and everyone’s relatively calm demeanour. I adored the sense of community, that we were all in it together, the Spirit of the Blitz in suburban Melbourne. It’s been a time of looking inward, and connecting with your closest people.
I’ve spoken to a surprising number of people who are dying to get back out and be social, to go to the pub and have friends over for dinner. I’m not opposed to that kind of thing, but I didn’t really miss it. Part of the pleasure of iso for me was that the closure of venues caused a marked drop in my clinical workload. Without pubs and clubs open, there was next to no alcohol-related acute harm happening – people weren’t getting drunk and falling over, or crashing their cars, or punching each other. That’s a silver lining, but not one to be taken lightly.
As expected, it’s all snapped back alarmingly quickly with the relaxation of restrictions. The roads are full again, even on weekends. Signs still encourage social distancing but they are largely ignored, even in crowded places like shopping centres. Little old ladies still scuttle to the side of walkways, aware of their vulnerability, but everyone else carries on.
I fully expect there to be another wave of infections, perhaps several. But I’d be surprised if we go back to full-iso in the way that we have. From a societal point of view, what we’ve been trying to work out is how much economic pain we can tolerate in order to save lives. Essentially we’ve been calculating what a life is worth. For the next few months I expect a bit of back-and-forth with regard to social distancing, but sooner or later we’ll find a number. And then that will be that. Covid will be the new normal, like the flu.