Letter from Sydney

By Jodie Brough

Hard to believe that Christmas is almost upon us here in sunny Australia after an extraordinary year. There is a strong sense that the nation is on the upswing right now, with coronavirus cases in the community at a trickle and state borders reopening to travel. 

Even a few weeks ago, masks were extremely common in central Sydney. Now they are starting to disappear as case numbers recede and summer starts to make its presence felt with 30 degree days. NSW has just recorded its 16th straight day of zero local cases and nearly a month of no mystery cases, while Victoria, epicentre of the virus down under, has been case-free for 24 days. Thankfully, Melbourne has emerged from the country’s toughest lockdown. And the road from Sydney to Melbourne is finally open from today.

Nationally, there have been 28,000 cases over the course of 2020. There have been 907 deaths. Some 25,000 people have recovered. 

It’s not over, of course. Last week famously sleepy Adelaide had a small cluster of cases which shut the city for a few days. Infections were quickly traced and a second wave was seemingly avoided.

The public health officials are seen as having done a heroic job everywhere, getting contact tracing down to a fine art. They have been helped by Australians’ willingness to embrace the health advice and restrictions. Few argue, US-style, that health precautions infringe personal liberty. 

Incumbent politicians have been richly rewarded by the virus. The Queensland Labor government was just re-elected with an increased majority, despite lacklustre economic performance, on the strength of its energetic virus management which has included a “no pasaran” border policy. Just today, the Western Australian Opposition Leader quit, four months out from that state’s next election, admitting she simply cannot cut through the pandemic.

We know that escaping the worst of the virus so far is not due to any innate cleverness here. It comes down to the hundreds of kilometres of ocean that separate us from the rest of the world. Australians look at Europe, North America and elsewhere and see just how ferocious the virus can be without a natural cocoon for protection.

Touch wood, Australians are looking forward to a relatively safe Christmas and the opportunity to see loved ones who have been off-limits due to borders and lockdowns. The classic Australian Christmas lunch of prawns, oysters and every kind of fresh seafood, washed down with a good local champagne (apologies to EU colleagues), awaits a relieved nation. After a year from hell, it will never have tasted better.