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Why America looks to Australia for hope

For a couple of weeks there, watching from New York, we were worried about how Australia was going to cope.

It seems crazy to say it now.

But everyone seemed to be at the beaches long after it was wise, the oldies were still meeting for coffee, our daughter was working at a sold-out venue at the Adelaide Festival every night.

We shook our heads as cruise ships disgorged infected passengers to spread the coronavirus all over our beautiful country.

People wait for a distribution of masks and food in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York. Picture: AP
People wait for a distribution of masks and food in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York. Picture: AP

 

That seems a long time ago, before where we live became the global exemplar of everything going wrong.

Now we look at the way our home has stepped up, with so little spread of the virus that it's making news here for the right reasons, and it sparks heartfelt expat pride.

 

My husband's theory is that Australia was already on a war footing after that horror summer of fires, ready for anything, ready to fight. Canberra had learned some hard lessons at the start of the bushfires. It wasn't going to make the same mistakes again.

Australian Army CH-47 Chinooks from the 5th Aviation Regiment, load hay bales to deliver to remote bushfire affected farms on Kangaroo Island during Operation Bushfire Assist.
Australian Army CH-47 Chinooks from the 5th Aviation Regiment, load hay bales to deliver to remote bushfire affected farms on Kangaroo Island during Operation Bushfire Assist.

 

By contrast, America was not ready for the fight

America thought this was a distant problem that would soon go away by itself. It hadn't been through months of horrific bushfires to battle-harden it for this crisis.

It is still very strange over here, as we wind out of our seventh week of lockdown.

Going on a simple walk around the block last week to try to get away from the constantly grim TV news, the awfulness slammed home again.

A group of burly men stood apart but together under a giant American flag hoisted by a crane, drinking beers around a makeshift shrine in a bottle shop carpark, toasting the memory of Johnny, the store owner who was lost to the coronavirus.

His death was one of several the teenagers have been updating us with as they happen in town, shared on social media with the friends they can no longer see.

Further along, as we peered into the dark windows of shut-up shops, restaurants and bars, it was hard to see how life will come back to so many of these businesses. Chamber of commerce types say Manhattan may never be the same.

A woman wearing a mask crosses Church Avenue in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Picture: AP
A woman wearing a mask crosses Church Avenue in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Picture: AP

 

There's a lot of talk of trade-offs here

As the nation gingerly eyes lifting restrictions, there is debate of the value of lives over dollars, and personal privacy versus reopening the country with widespread contract tracing and testing.

In a country of 330 million people living in 50 wildly different and independent states, a crisis that deprived people of their rights and liberties was also going to be deepest in the US.

What a lot of these arguments miss is the fact that in states such as New York and New Jersey, where almost everyone has been directly impacted by the virus and where up to 2.7 million people may have already been infected without being diagnosed, there are many who won't head outdoors again until reliable testing for immunity is available.

My morning Google for "antibody testing near me" is turning up more options every day, but none of them actually have the tests yet.

And because this is America, where even emergency room nurses are getting hefty bills for virus testing so that they can go to work, it costs a bomb.

Yet another reason why we look to home for hope, knowing that we will never take what Australia gets right for granted again.

The cautionary tale for Australia, of course, is to look at Singapore and fear the second wave. It isn't over until it's over, no matter how well you learned your lessons.

Originally published as Why America looks to Australia for hope

People wearing masks buy takeout food in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Picture: AP
People wearing masks buy takeout food in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Picture: AP

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