Australia was on fire.
Catastrophic bushfires were erupting all over the east and west coasts. Small townships such as Batemans Bay, Mogo, Cobargo, and Mallacoota were evacuating or hunkering down (sometimes cut off from escape routes) to await their fate.
Many towns would sustain substantial damage. Already, over 5 million hectares had been burnt and unimaginable numbers of wildlife perished.
My home of Canberra was impacted by smoke-drift from the surrounding fires. On several days it was rated as having the worst air quality of any place in the world surpassing Kolkata and Delhi.
We were dealing with temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to mid-40s (Celsius).
Perhaps the whole situation was best captured in a single video showing a crew from Fire and Rescue NSW overrun by a bushfire burning south of the coastal town of Nowra.
Then, on January 20th Canberra was hit by a massive storm. A Hail-apocalypse throwing down 116 km/hr winds gusts and 4-5 cm hailstones (pictures and story here). Some areas around the parliamentary triangle were trashed.
Obscured by far more pressing issues, there were reports of an ‘atypical viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ that had started in Wuhan, China. The USA reported its first case on 21 January.
A few days later the WHO declared the as-yet-unnamed coronavirus a ‘public health emergency of international concern’
Bushfires and blistering temperatures continue. Estimates were circulating that over one BILLION animals had perished in the fires. This was thought to be conservative.
Many ecosystems had been destroyed. In places like Capertee and Wolgan valleys, Yengo National Park, Kangaroo Valley, Jenolan, Oxley Wild Rivers and Curracubundi national parks, emergency food drops were now being carried out in an attempt to provide some food sources for the struggling survivors.
But wait…2020 had not even got started with us yet. By the end of February COVID-19 was beginning to register on our radars. Although not yet classified a pandemic by the WHO it looked likely to be something significant. I remember feeling a little like I was over catastrophising the whole thing at the time but I wrote a post documenting our just to be on the safe side food stockpiling.
On the 11th March, the WHO officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic.
Enough of the fricking pandemic already!
So. Kelly Juno and I were off on a 2-week road-trip through Victoria.
Because if you are going to have a zombie apocalypse, you are going to need the mature quirky couple of retired nurses travelling in their old camper van that picks up the wounded hero and her sultry but unhinged love interest just in the nick of zombie-infested time… whilst providing a little comic relief (even if they do end up becoming zombies themselves in episode 26).
It was a fantastic adventure:
Towards the end of March COVID was becoming a real thing.
Overseas in Europe and the USA, some hospitals were already struggling with the impact.
Back here in Australia, we were dealing with our homegrown problems as the great toilet paper fiasco of 2020 helped us appreciate that the SARS-Cov-2 virus is particularly virulent at binding to the alpha and beta-stupid receptors in humans.
On the 19th March the Ruby Princess cruise ship docks in Sydney, spilling a large number of COVID infected passengers into the general population.
As yet oblivious to the rapidly evolving situation we travelled through rural towns in Victoria and noticed that hand sanitiser was sold out everywhere (and in a self-fulfilling crisis, toilet paper was indeed scarce).
I wrote a post (Finger licking and phone swiping) about how uncomfortable I was feeling in some public situations.
We began social distancing in our campervan.
We also instigated emergency RULE #666 which soon cost me hundreds of dollars in fines for breaching the rule.
There were now 709 positive cases of COVID-19 in Australia. Six people had died. We headed home.
By the end of March, my dad had become increasingly unwell and had been admitted to hospital. It was a difficult time as the visitation limit was one family member per day.
His condition (not COVID related) would continue to deteriorate over the coming months.
My dad passed away peacefully in our local hospital on the 4th of June.
By the end of April, a total of 6,753 COVID-19 cases and 91 deaths had been reported in Australia. Case numbers were mercifully declining. Despite the incredibly hard work that had been done by health workers and the many other community services, I could not help feel that it was more sheer luck than anything else.
Of course, just as it began to look like we could taper off with our doom scrolling, Victoria was hit with a second wave of the virus. New clusters begin to emerge and by the 30th June, there were a total of 7,834 COVID-19 cases and 104 deaths in Australia.
As the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Australian hospitals continued to escalate I decided to re-start a FaceBook page to try and contribute in some small way by helping nurses support each other and voice their experiences. It may have been earlier than this….it is all a bit of a blur now.
Moderating and providing content for this group quickly subsumed a lot of my free time and so my writing here on shojiwax.com went into a sustained hiatus.
Australia had now reported 22,127 COVID-19 cases and 352 deaths. Globally we crossed the 20 million confirmed cases mark, with 5 million in the USA alone. I decided to put a pause to my retirement for a 3-month return to help out at our local COVID testing clinic. I was back as Swabby McSwabnurse.
I must say that I really did enjoy this work. For the first time in a long time, I felt I was providing a useful service without becoming entangled in all the politics and nastiness that tends to percolate in those skanky pockets of workplace misery throughout our health system.
And so here we are.
The promise of relatively effective vaccines now being rolled out in some parts of the world.
Even so, many countries are experiencing unprecedented rates of infection. Some seem to be on the verge of complete health system collapse.
And don’t even get me started on the US political/social situation.
Here, new spitfire clusters of COVID breaking out in the greater Sydney area as well as Victoria and Queensland.
People have been on the move
People have been gathering.
Christmas. New Years. Shopping. Celebrating.
We have yet to see how this latest rise in numbers might play out. It could go either way. As I write this, state borders are now shutting down once more.
And just as the early news of an unnamed but potentially severe virus was obscured by catastrophic events way back in January, there seem to be hints of imminent geopolitical and environmental dangers lurking just off in the periphery of our burnt-out blind spots.
Lucky for us we have run out of days.
Tomorrow it will be 2021 and everything will reset at midnight tonight.
Let us hope for better times ahead. No. Let us make better times ahead.