Flat White

An official health warning: suspect everyone

21 July 2021

6:40 PM

21 July 2021

6:40 PM

The New South Wales Chief Health Officer told us yesterday that “whilst it is human nature to engage in conversation and to be friendly, this is not the time.” 

And she’s right.

This is not the time to speak to other people. This is not the time to even show your face to other people. This is the time to assume that other people are a threat, and to keep the hell away from them.

We are most certainly not “all in this together”. It’s every Covid survivor for himself. 

Our NSW Health Dictator put it succinctly yesterday: “Even if you run into your next-door neighbour in the shopping centre, don’t start up a conversation.”

I must confess that even if I did run into my next-door neighbour in the shopping centre, I wouldn’t know it. Retired schoolteachers Stan and Margaret are now completely indistinguishable from all the other masked shoppers. 

I last saw them in December 2019, just before the Great Cough shut down the world. Margaret had banged on my door, pleading with me to help Stan who had fallen and hit his head.

I helped the old man onto his couch and examined the gash on the back of his head. 

They dropped over a few days later with a box of chocolates to say thanks.

But that was the old world, where they were a lovely old couple. In the new normal they are an existential threat.  

I now minimise contact with them. Like the health minister said, it’s just not the time to be friendly.  

And if I do run into them at the shops and catch them “browsing” — lovely old couple or not — I will call Crime Stoppers. It’s just not the time for browsing. Browsing is against the law and likely to get them — or all of us — killed.

I must confess, this is my favourite part of Covid; tut-tutting strangers at the shops, knowing the full weight of the NSW police force is behind me. It’s an adrenalin rush to tell a perfect stranger that they are endangering lives and to then ‘call it in’ on a dedicated police hotline. But I digress.

Our Health Overlord told us all yesterday: “Assume everybody has Covid.”

She probably has Covid. 

And that makes me sad because, having isolated myself at the behest of our Health Protector, she and her band of brothers –- the likeable Premier, the hapless Health Minister and the perennially grump Deputy Police Guy –- have become my sole connection to the outside world.

The daily Two Minutes Health broadcast on the telescreen in our home has become strangely comforting to me, just as registering my every move with Big Brother via the QR Code also makes me feel safe. It’s nice knowing the State knows exactly where I am and what I’ve been up to. The bureaucracy has come like an older brother; watching, caring and when necessary, chastising. But always for my good.

At 11 am every day I turn on the telescreen for the Two Minutes Health, listening intently to find out how the Party will scare and scold me today.

The Chief Health Officer, whom I love and fear in equal measure, announced yesterday: “The Death Star Strain is 10,000 times more deathly than whatever the last deadly strain was. And we know of at least one person who caught the virus by walking past a street where an infected person’s cousin once lived.”

I marvel every day at her ability to remain calm while delivering such horrific news. We are lucky to have her.

Then, like clockwork, the stern policeman appears on the telescreen to scold us.

“In the past 12 hours NSW police have issued three hundred million infringement notices,” I’m sure I heard him say the other day. 

“Well good!” I yell in support from my couch, surrounded by my children who have taken a break from online-not-learning in order to learn what they really need to know — how well the Party cares for us.

The stern policeman tells us about enemies of the State, giving examples of people who have risked all our lives by celebrating a birthday or visiting their grandmother or purchasing a pair of shoes that weren’t essential or, God forbid, exercising at Bondi Beach.

I’m hoping the Great Cough will last long enough for me to report a breach of Covid restrictions –- maybe I’ll catch out Stan and Margaret — and hear the stern policeman make an example of them during the Two Minutes Health.

I wear a mask at all times and I’ve had my first jab. But I want to do more. Reporting violations of health orders helps me feel like I’m part of fighting Covid, the same as voting yes to same-sex marriage made me feel part of the LBGTQ community even though I’m totally straight and don’t really like Kylie Minogue. 

And then it’s over. The telescreen resumes normal broadcasting, as the only people I’m permitted to talk to outside of my immediate household (and I have to be honest, I’m by now thoroughly annoyed by the people in my immediate household) disappear back into the Party’s Sydney headquarters until 11 am tomorrow when I will again be eagerly waiting to be scared and scolded. 

I know there are those who say we should abandon the daily Two Minutes Health, unlock our homes and venture out into the world to engage with others while applying a commonsense approach to living with the virus. 

But as the Health Minister says, this is just not the time. And the longer this goes on, the more I wonder if it may never be the time.

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