Epistemic status: Highly subjective post. Some of the numbers/dates given here are not precise, this is just how I remember what happened. 

In a time where most of the western world failed to contain the pandemic, I lived in a place where it was possible to have a mostly normal life, for more than a year a half. 

I left Queensland for good, a couple of weeks ago, two days after they opened the interstate borders (no causal connection between the two). I have lived there for more than two years and a half, so most of my time there happened during the pandemic. If you hear certain political commentators, it seems that Australia has become an Orwellian state, as close to North Korea as you can get. This saddens me. I don't think things have been perfect in Australia but I do think that things have been vastly better than almost anywhere else. This is a summary of my personal experience after living there during this time. 

  1. When the pandemic starts, I heavily criticise the regional/federal governments for being too slow in taking measures. However, it is true that they close the international borders very early, in March. I think that the same mistakes that were made in some of the first countries hit by the pandemic (such as Italy or Spain) are going to be made by Australia.
  2. They order a lockdown once we reach around 1000 cases in Brisbane. Pasta and toilet paper runs out in most supermarkets. I start buying provisions earlier than most people.
  3. The lockdown lasts for around a month. I don't remember well the exact dates, so it could have been longer than that. After the lockdown finishes, we spend some extra time working from home. The borders with other countries and with other states remain closed. Cases go down to zero in most parts of Australia.
  4. During that first lockdown/isolation period, many measures are put into place:
    1. QR codes become ubiquitous. Every time you go to any shop or bar (or even inside a taxi) you find a QR code that you need to scan. I understand they serve a purpose, I happily comply.
    2. They create the quarantine system. People returning to Australia must spend 2 weeks of mandatory quarantine isolation in designated places before they are allowed to enter the country. Only permanent residents are allowed to come in.
    3. They put in place a very efficient contact tracing program. More on this later.
  5. The measures are harsh, I cannot leave Australia to see my family: I am not a permanent resident and leaving the country means that I cannot reenter the country if I leave.
  6. But I understand what they are trying to accomplish: It is almost impossible to keep the number of cases low: either you have it ravaging the population in multiple waves, or you keep them at zero, all the time, until the vaccines become widely available and everyone has the chance to get a couple of shots. Not only I do understand, I totally agree with this strategy.
  7. The university becomes... empty. Most students at UQ (where I used to work) are normally coming from abroad (and a huge percentage from China) and they cannot enter the country.
  8. At some point after that first lockdown, the interstate borders are reopened. However, this is a quickly changing situation. If there is an outbreak of just a few cases with a different state, the borders would be closed right away.
  9. In Queensland, we go back to a normal life. I mean a 100% normal (maybe a 95% if you want), not a "new" normal. Go to any bar, shop or nightclub and everything you need to do is scan the QR at the door. Places are crowded. There is music in the street. I can go to parties, meet my friends. I don't need to wear a mask, never, anywhere. This lasts for a year and a half, punctuated by a few outbreaks, explained in the points below.
  10. There are 2 or maybe 3 snap lockdowns, lasting no more than a week. They are caused by "leaks" from the quarantine system, e.g. once one person from the cleaning staff got the virus and went back to the community. Those lockdowns give the time to the contact tracing team to identify the thousands of people that were in contact with the potentially contagious people. Those people are ordered to remain at home for 2 weeks and are tested multiple times until they are negative.
  11. The contact tracing is massively facilitated by QR codes. However, as soon as there are a few cases in the community (and by a few I mean more than 10) it starts to become impossible to really do any sort of contact tracing and a snap lockdown is required.
  12. I become sincerely impressed at the efficiency of the government at identifying problems and solving them. Every time a problem or something unexpected occurs, they try to understand why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future.
  13. In summer 2021, I receive a message telling me that I can get a Pfizer shot.
  14. The Delta variant takes hold in places like NSW or New Zealand that so far have been very successful in dealing with the virus. They try to continue with the elimination strategy for a while, but they give up after it becomes clear that is impossible to reduce the numbers to zero again. I am afraid that the same situation occurs in Queensland, but I am wrong. Not even Delta manages to cross the border.

There are many cached thoughts that come to mind when discussing about Australia: it is an island, so it is easy to close the borders. The density is very low, so that helps a lot, etc. I am not saying these things are not true, but they are not the only reason why they succeeded in keeping the death tally as one of the lowest in the world. To me, Queensland allowed me to have a mostly normal life in one of the worst periods of our recent history and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Edits: I added an extra sentence at the beginning to emphasize the main takeaway and did some minor grammar corrections


4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:58 PM
New Comment