I strongly oppose domestic border closures. I understand that location-specific lockdowns have been necessary at different times in our fight against COVID-19, but we are supposed to be one nation, a Commonwealth, instead of the Divided States of Australia that we have become.
Why do I say that? Because like many Australians, I live across multiple borders. I have family interstate. I have work commitments interstate. I have leisure pursuits interstate – and I love a road trip.
I never thought I would feel ashamed to say I’m Victorian, but here we are. I’m currently in exile from my own state, functionally homeless, and I’ve been forced to seek refuge with the family of a friend.
Letter from exile
I’ve been trapped in NSW since July 22, which has so far been about nine weeks. I’m a freelance writer and I entered NSW from Queensland, despite knowing the border between NSW and Victoria was closed, because I had a work commitment at Jindabyne, where I was writing about the snow season. As a sole trader, I can’t afford to miss out on paying jobs to rush home. I also don’t have the luxury of taking paid time off. I was aware of the risk that I could become trapped, I just hoped it wouldn’t be for long.
I’ve emailed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews twice about my situation. I’ve also emailed the Opposition Leader Matthew Guy. Today I lodged an official complaint with the Victorian Ombudsman, who has just launched an investigation into the way the Department of Health is handling border exemptions. Because that’s the thing, even as a returning resident, I can’t get a permit. I’m not on the list of “specified workers” who can gain access, nor am I eligible for any exemptions or exceptions.
It’s not even worth filing an application. As many as 16,000 other Victorians have had their applications to return home denied. And at least 80 of those have also submitted complaints to the Ombudsman.
At this point, I’m seriously contemplating buying a cow and trying to pass as a farmer.
Road to lockdown
After I finished my job, I spent four weeks camping in the border bubble in the Snowy Mountains, hoping I would be allowed to cross that invisible line. Jindabyne is a small alpine town where temperatures routinely bottom out at -2 degrees Celsius. I was prepared with all the right gear, but prolonged exposure to the cold is exhausting. The frigid air almost instantly drained the batteries in my phone and laptop, forcing me to tuck them into bed with me overnight so I could continue working in the morning.
I’ve been living in a van, and while it’s my pride and joy, it’s basic at best.
Then NSW declared a statewide lockdown. I had nowhere to go, so a friend suggested I drive up to her hometown of Bowral, in the Southern Highlands, to stay with her parents. The lockdown was declared at 3 pm and came into effect at 5 pm, so I had no choice but to break the law as I made the four-hour trip. These people kindly took me in, generously offering my home since I was forbidden from going to mine. What was meant to be two weeks has already become five, and last week was extended indefinitely.
The cruel irony is that, with the recent change to the border bubble, I could have been home by now had I spent this time freezing and lonely in Jindabyne – following a mandatory quarantine, of course.
The rules are unreasonable
There are a few reasons why this is a bad policy.
First of all, I’m double-vaccinated with AstraZeneca. I believe that should be enough to let me come home – otherwise what’s the point of encouraging everyone to get the jab? On top of that, I’ve been in lockdown since August 14 and have had no contact with anyone outside the house where I’m staying, but for buying groceries. Since I’m currently on day 33, the risk of me spreading the virus is minimal.
I also believe that should give me the right to bypass another 14-day quarantine.
Ironically, I had to do one in Sydney last year after traveling the opposite direction, surviving two weeks in a miserable hotel with no sunlight, no fresh air, and government-issued food. My room faced a grey apartment block, where I could watch everyone coming and going as they went about their days in a kind of dystopian parallel universe. It’s certainly not an experience I’m in a hurry to repeat.
Second, it’s easy to create a blanket rule saying all of NSW is an “extreme risk zone”. However, I suspect that stems more from Mr Andrews’ petty point-scoring with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, since the Delta strain seems to be spreading even faster in his state, despite the fact he cracked down faster.
It’s time to start living with COVID instead of sticking to the ridiculous goal of “COVID Zero”. Leading a state through a pandemic is a difficult job and I believe the premiers are doing the best they can. However, we can’t keep living like this, because this isn’t living. It’s merely a shell of a life.
We are all languishing
A friend recently sent me a meme based on a New York Times article by Adam Grant. (Yes, if you hadn’t already guessed, I am a millennial.) It was entitled, “There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called languishing”. Paraphrased, it said: this is not burnout, because we still have energy; it’s not depression, because we don’t feel hopeless. We just feel more joyless and aimless every day this drags on.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m committed to protecting my community. It’s why I’m vaccinated and why I’m obeying the stay-at-home orders, even though I can’t actually stay at home. However, if we’re going to live with COVID, we need to be free from border closures and lockdowns that can be enacted by a small group of people with no oversight. This is especially true once the double-vax rate reaches 70 percent, because we know it’s effective in minimizing the severity of COVID and reducing the risk of death.
No more extraordinary measures
The latest figures I can find show that 5,881,075 vaccinations have been administered in Victoria. Almost 67 percent of people have had their first dose, while 41 percent have had their second. Reaching this milestone means we are no longer living in a state of emergency. This is the new normal.
The time for extraordinary measures has ended, which means the Victorian Premier must relinquish his special powers. Give us back our freedoms. Let us live our lives. And please let me come home.
This article originally appeared on Escape