Life in times of COVID-19

23 February 2021

Samantha Dunnicliff, Policy Researcher, PM Glynn Institute 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” For the first time in my life, Dickens’s oft-quoted quote does actually feel relevant as we navigate our way through a global pandemic. COVID-19 has been the catalyst for many changes in Australia and across the world. Through this difficult time, we have seen humanity at its best and its worst. We have born witness to what makes us fundamentally the same and what makes us different; what divides us. I am constantly struck by how easily we can come together and how easily we are driven apart.

These things got me to thinking about the good things and the bad things that have come from COVID. The positive and the negative. Intrigued by the question, I asked friends and family to share their thoughts and the responses were overwhelming on each side of the question. And it wasn’t all just stories about the joys of spring cleaning or finding the perfect new banana bread recipe or the challenge in purchasing toilet paper – although the struggle was real!

The most obvious and tragic cost of COVID has been the overwhelming sickness and loss of life. To date, there have been 106 million reported cases of COVID and 2.31 million reported deaths. These figures continue to increase and are quite frankly mind-blowing. Not only is the loss of life a harrowing statistic, but the fear of the spread of COVID is something that has greatly impacted people’s lives. Fear of our neighbours, shopping centres, the daily commute to work and every other social situation in between has fostered a sense of fear. Every time someone coughs or sneezes in ear shot, the familiar phrase, “Do they have COVID?” or “Will I get COVID?” enters our minds. One of the hardest problems with COVID is that it is so unpredictable. Asymptomatic in some, a mild cold in others, months of fatigue or even death, makes it hard to prepare or know what to expect if you are diagnosed. The impact on families, jobs and careers and the ability to earn an income cannot begin to be measured. Until the bulk of the population is inoculated, it is hard to imagine how or when this sense of fear might end.

Going hand-in-hand with illness and death is the increased demand on health systems, medical professionals and carers. The strain that these systems and workers have witnessed is beyond comprehension. Images of doctors and nurses, our frontline health defenders, crumpled in tearful heaps, sometimes makes it feel like the virus has won.

The other most obvious impact brought about by COVID is the huge global economic downturn. Estimates suggest that the economic measures put in place to combat COVID-19 will cost the Australian Federal government more than $135 billion dollars. Big and small industry has been decimated in some quarters. Flight Centre have issued over $1 billion dollars in refunds and their losses continue to mount.

During COVID, we have also seen our fair share of bad behaviour. Blame-games, conspiracy theories, a failure to abide by important and sensible health measures and an increase in racism have shown some people at their worst. Accounts of people with (and without) COVID coughing and spitting on others was certainly a low point in the year. Governments failing to take action and responsibility for their actions (and inaction) has also increased public negativity, fear and sadness - not to mention their contribution to avoidable deaths.

Important rites of passage have also unfortunately been unable to be celebrated in full this year. Births, marriages, christenings, graduations and school formals have all suffered due to the pandemic. Events that bring us together and remind us of our similarities and what we are grateful for have been disrupted. The final passage – end of life – has also suffered immeasurably. Dying alone, frightened and confused is a hardship that no one should have to bear nor is it something that surviving family members should have to witness and let’s hope that this is something that we never see again.

While it is easy to focus on the bad things, because they are so obvious, a lot of good things have come out of COVD too. People have enjoyed spending more time with family while in lockdown or as they work from home. Newlyweds and young couples that I spoke to described feeling grateful to be given the rare opportunity to form deeper bonds and connect on a level they hadn’t anticipated in these new phases of their lives; bonds and connections that have strengthened their relationships as a family.

Community engagement has been another area that has really benefited. Children have been forced into finding new creative outlets that have helped keep them away from their screens. Rainbows drawn on pavements, skipping and inventing new games in their yards, Spoonville communities popping up around the suburbs of Melbourne and teddy bears peeking from windows ready to be hunted by eager little children delighted the young, old and everyone in between. For the first time since moving to my suburb, people greeted each other in the street and engaged in interesting conversations while queuing to buy groceries. It felt like I was part of something; that we all were through our shared experiences.

The positive impact on the environment has also been something to treasure. Time Magazine predicts that there will be a 7% reduction in carbon emissions in 2020 compared to 2019. Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles are doing better than they have in years in places like Phuket and Florida thanks to a reduction in human traffic on normally packed beaches. Residents in Northern India are seeing the view of the Himalayan Mountain Range for the first time in their lives; a view which has been hidden by pollution for thirty years.

Innovation is something that has also thrived during COVID. Out of necessity, restaurants, cafes and other food providers have been forced to go online or find new ways to stay in business. Flexible working arrangements have been implemented in many industries to enable workers to work from home, even in industries where this was once thought impossible, like mining. Telehealth appointments have made it possible for people to seek treatment from their GPs without leaving their homes. Educational workshops, concerts, theatre performances, tours of museums and famous landmarks have also found their way online. These developments have shown what is possible when the chips are down and they have not only made living and working in a world consumed by COVID easier and more enjoyable, but it has also helped open up the lives and the reach of those living with illness and disability, who may not be able to easily leave their homes, so that they too can experience something of the richness of what life has to offer.

I hope that as time passes, that effective vaccinations become available to more and more people and life starts to get a little easier and feel less hopeless. Hopelessness comes from the unknown and at the moment, we just don’t know how or when this will end. I do hope though, that we can learn from our mistakes and take with us the good that has come from this, because there has been plenty of good. It has certainly taught me that there is more kindness in the world than unkindness, that perspective is a wonderful thing and that appreciating those little things or moments in time is often more memorable and magical than just about anything else. I feel like my senses have been heightened. I am acutely more aware of the birdsongs in the trees, the sweet smells of blossom in the air, the soft velvetiness of the eggs I have scrambled for lunch, the warmth in a hug from my dad and the sunlight hitting the water on my afternoon walk. I feel more grateful for the things that I have, the person I am and what I may be able to achieve. I feel an inner peace that I think only comes from reflection and contemplation. I don’t think I would feel this way without COVID. I hope that we can all take a little piece of this with us as we continue to move forward.

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs