Signs of the pandemic past – the national lockdown in Australia, 2020

This time three years ago, all Australians were experiencing the one and only national lockdown that was implemented in our nation to contain the COVID-19 pandemic (further lockdowns were localised, and for some Australians, this national lockdown was the only extended one they experienced over these years). Restrictions began to be introduced by the Commonwealth and state governments in mid-March 2020 and as COVID cases began to drop and community transmission became well controlled, these measures were gradually eased from mid-May 2020.

The national lockdown was a stressful, frightening and difficult time for many people, particularly those who lost their jobs, were dealing with educating their children at home or struggled with feelings of social isolation. However, some Australians found some silver linings or discovered that their lives were hardly changed by the restrictions. This was a time where everyone was taking the risks posed by COVID-19 very seriously, and Australians for the most part did their best to engage in the recommended measures to ‘stop the spread’. (See here for my publications reporting on Australians’ experiences, based on interviews with people across the nation.)

The markers of experiences of this first lockdown were mostly ephemeral: supermarket shelves stripped of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pasta, flour and other goods, signs warning people to distance from each other, and to wash their hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and informing potential customers that businesses were closed, or newspaper ads and pamphlets distributed to householders by governments and businesses.

As a social researcher of health topics, I began taking photographs of my surroundings, to keep a record of life during COVID. I have published an essay using some of these images (but it is behind a journal paywall). Below, I include several of these photos (all captured with my smartphone in April 2020) as a reminder for everyone of this pandemic past, as we move into an era in which forgetting the continuing risks posed by COVID-19 seems to be a major cultural and political phemomenon.

As we can see from these images, words such as ‘protect’, ‘together’, ‘help’, ‘respect’, save lives’, ‘community’ and ‘stay safe’ were commonly used to highlight the importance of following these rules and acknowledge that ‘we are all in this together’. Whereas once the dominant message was to ‘protect yourself and others’, now it is ‘if you feel unsafe or anxious, stay home or wear a mask’. The sense of community and feelings of care have largely fractured into a ‘you do you mentality’ – or worse, into bitter hostility against people who continue to take preventive measures to protect themselves and others, such as mask wearing.

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