As part of our continuing “Pandemic Diaries” series, we publish situation reports from our colleagues and correspondents all over the world. In this latest diary, we hear from Tristan Woods, an essential service maintenance supervisor, in Melbourne, Australia.
My name is Tristan and I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I work as a maintenance supervisor for an industrial laundry that services major hospitals around Melbourne. I also own my own business as an electrical contractor. This makes me an essential service worker which we will get to later.
Melbourne is known for its cafes, bars and live music. And it’s been very quiet. Melbourne itself is almost like a ghost town. Where the sounds of clanging cups and cutlery are now just silence apart from the sounds of coffee machines of those cafes offering a takeaway service. Nightlife is no more. No cues outside bars, no taxi lines. Driving through the city is a different environment now. Both day and night. No scores of people with shopping bags or fancy nightlife attire. It has made driving through the city easier and quicker. In fact, travel times in whole are quicker as there are a lot less people on the roads.
When the pandemic hit the shores of Australia, it hit the other state of New South Wales hard. Victoria (my state), led by our Premier, took the front foot and closed all non essential businesses, sporting events, told people to work from home if possible, moved school holidays to keep people at home and declared a state emergency early to help prevent the spread. We also closed our borders from all international and domestic travel which helped slow the spread except to the Aussies returning home from abroad, which was advised by the government for them to do so before all travel was restricted worldwide. Those returning had to self quarantine for two weeks at home at first but later was changed to a hotel room. By numbers, the virus in Victoria is currently at 1,463. Australia as a whole is at 6,916. But doing this took a huge effect on people’s livelihood. From working, to going out to eat and enjoying a beer at the pub (which is what I really enjoy doing) it hit people hard. Some found it tough.
Melbourne also incorporated limitations on gatherings of people. So we weren’t able to visit friends, family, hang out in parks, etc., and this was controlled by fines. $1,650 or so for people found breaching these laws but also if they were travelling to places for non essential items. Grocery stores, work, pharmacies were essential. Anything else was not. Work provided us with letters to say we were essential service workers so if we were stopped by police, we could prove that we had to go to work. Also because tradesites were deemed essential work places, tradesmen and women were allowed to travel to and from work or to suppliers. This provided me the ability to keep working during the pandemic which I was fortunate to be able to do.
Losing a job is hard and I know a lot of people that have lost their jobs. My brother and father both stood down from their jobs. Dad works in an airline so he may not even get to go back to work. My brother is also a musician and frankly, I have no idea when he will be able to play again or when I’ll get to have a beer and watch his band. That sucks. So many other friends are suffering as well. The Australian government organized a job keeper package to help support those that need it which pays companies $1,500 a fortnight per employee to pay employees a wage.
Work for me actually has been quiet too. Because of the work that was done by our state, we didn’t see a huge raise in numbers and as such hospitals weren’t overrun. This is good. As a lot of surgeries were cancelled to prepare for a massive intake, the linen orders were down and the company I work for were forced to stand some people down, allow people to take annual leave or leave with no pay. Our maintenance department had to reduce costs by 20% so I was offered to take one day off work a week off and the other members decided to take 2 hours leave without pay a week. I was offered the annual leave because I had an excessive amount of vacation I was planning on using this year for a trip to Los Angeles and also Europe. I don’t see the European trip happening now. 🙁
On the topic of my work, they have put in some good measures to ensure the safety of its workers. From putting up screens on machines to prevent people touching other people, PPE available for anyone, area zoning and reducing the amount of people in the lunch room, etc.
This extra day off has had its advantage though. I’ve been able to finally attack my garden to prepare it for a veggie patch. Only been on the cards for 4 years hahaha.
There have been people that don’t like what’s happening. They can’t see what is happening and because of the low numbers, think it’s nothing big. But as I heard the other day, the key to prevention is nothing. Nothing happens. People don’t see that but I’m glad the Victorian government is holding strong. It’s tough but it’s worth it.
The Australian government announced a 3 step plan to open the country again starting the week of May 11th which is set up as a guide for states and territories to follow when the time is right. And there has been talks with New Zealand about a travel bubble between the two countries to help tourism in the future, which I will take advantage of if it does happen because New Zealand has been on my bucket list of years. Being so close, it’s always an “I’ll get there. I can go anytime because it’s close” type of scenario.
Victoria will assess what it will be doing as far as reopening. Recently, even with all the work that has been said and talked about with social distancing and hygiene, some people didn’t listen and there was an outbreak at a slaughterhouse which has put the state back maybe 2 or more weeks.
This plan, if everything goes well, would open the country by July. International travel is still a long way away but will be good to travel interstate or just have a (or few) beer down at the local pub again.