April 2 – from Anne in Adelaide, Australia

Teacher, Financial Systems Manager, author of two novels about Africa: Zanzibar Uhuru & Shadow of the Hyena.

April 2. ‘Oh, but I love my bacon!’ For some time, I have been OFF eating pigs in any form. This came about from reading various books about the processing of animals in factory farms. Pigs in particular are intelligent animals, some say with the intelligence of a 3-year old child. The stories of their ‘processing’ aka killing, are chilling. One author said that if we had glass walls on abattoirs, we would NOT allow what happens there to take place. Sometimes, when I told people why I did not eat pork, I would get the smart refrain: ‘but Oh, I love MY bacon.’ Usually, this is said in a pained-but-I-cannot-be-short-changed-child-voice.

Now I have a second string to my argument. In my reading of ‘Pandemic’ by Sonia Shah I have come to understand the critical role that pigs play in pandemics. Pigs are the virus bridge between birds and humans – genetically. They are called the perfect ‘mixing vessels’ for novel influenza strains. China in particular has pig farms – 660 million pigs – half of the world production and in many cases pigs are raised in unhygienic informal farms in close proximity to humans and birds. There are no animal anticruelty laws in China and factory farming practices that are banned in the West are allowed in China. Author, Sonia Shah, writes that ‘of all the new pathogens emerging today, novel influenza viruses like H5N1 (the first avian influenza that could infect humans) are the ones that keep most virologists up at night’. Pathogens love crowded humans, birds and animals in factory farms.

So, in our new world emerging from these times, I hope that we will be more thoughtful about the food we eat, how it is produced and how to protect our children from the next pathogen brewing out there, that might be many times more deadly than Covid-19.

April 1. Time and Germs. They go togethelike love and marriage’. First, ‘Time’. I am strangely busy. My day is full of activity and a sense of ‘things that need to be done’. Deliveries of food have been arriving at the house, because I rather overordered – thinking it was the END of TIMES and the supermarkets would be war zones and I had to get onto the delivery systems. Not so. So, I now have to find ways of giving away, freezing and eating the food. We have a box or two of our real ‘earthquake’ reserves in our spare bedroom in case we get the virus and cannot get out. However, I read that a side effect of the virus is to make you desist from eating. Furthermore, I have realised two things: we don’t eat that much – food goes down slowly, and in our life before all this, we frequently ate out. Cooking at home takes more time. Plus, there’s all that cleaning up afterwards.

Now come the ‘Germs’: on my daughter’s recommendation, I purchased ‘Pandemic’ by Sonia Shah. I am a third of the way through the book and am amazed and horrified. It’s all so obvious. In 2016, the author forecast that the next pandemic was brewing in the wet markets of Asia. Etc. (I read today that these wet markets that sell bats, dogs, cats, wild animals etc are RIGHT NOW reopening!!) The level to which pathogens are out there trying to develop the ability to jump from human to human is staggering. The author lists the methods – and the places that these pathogens are found in our modern communities. It’s all a matter of TIME.

Read ‘Pandemic’ and wonder …

March 28. Home Delights: birdwatching and gathering in a time of relative isolation. We are not in total lockdown in South Australia unless you are one of the returning Australians streaming home. From today, they will have to go into 14 day, police-monitored isolation at the port of entry. So, hotels are being prepared for them. The rest of us are under recommendation of social distancing and, if you are elderly, even more social distancing. Certain gatherings, number wise, are prohibited. So, you can walk the dog, walk on the beach or along our nature trails BUT no more than 10 in a group and all in a group have to space out: one person per 4 square metres.

We have spent most of the time at home. But yesterday, I went to a friend’s property to help gather in fruit from her 3 strawberry or cherry guava trees (Psidium cattleyanum). They are groaning in these delicious walnut-sized red fruit. They are full of vitamin-C … which we all need at the moment! There are so many, I shall make some jam from the harvest. The trouble is I have enough home-made jam in our cupboards to last years and years of isolation. There is fig jam, apricot jam, cumquat marmalade and tomato relish to start. Only problem is, I will have to learn how to make bread if bread stocks are raided as are other food items in these strange times.

We have also been doing more birdwatching. We are both birdwatchers and now we are spending more time gardening we are delighting in the wealth of bird life during these last days of summer. Our garden is a haven for birds in the dry surrounding bush. We have taken to feeding mealworms to the cute superb blue wren and they have learnt fast. Outside my office window the crescent honeyeaters are exploring the grevillea flowers. Today is 30 degrees C and probably one of our last warm days (this is not hot for Australia!). I think the deadly brown snakes will be out and about getting a last feed before they seek a place to hibernate – like we all will be doing as the virus expands its tentacles in our society.

March 26. The Knives are OUT. I am buying a newspaper every day. The longer articles and commentary are so much more interesting than that sound-bites we get on TV or the aggressive interviews on the radio. I don’t want non-stop news of these terrible events. With the newspaper I can pick it up and drop it whenever I want and feel I can control what I read. The problem is the politics of how to deal with COVID and its advance into Australia is becoming more confrontational on a micro and macro level. We have federal and state governments all desperately trying to cope. The issue at the moment is how much to lockdown people. Close the schools? Close all businesses? Stop people attending weddings? Funerals? (these last two are allowed with limited numbers). Only the state of Victoria has closed schools early, but saying students will return 13 April. In other states it is optional whether parents keep kids at home – the problem is, if kids are at home many parents cannot work – so nurses, doctors, emergency workers etc cannot work … or leave the kids with grandparents and that is not a good idea either. So it’s a conundrum. We now have the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, deciding its time to launch criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis. I wonder if he feels that Scott Morrison, PM, is getting too much attention, even approval. So, the knives are out.

Knives are out at the State level as well. So many of our ‘clusters’ of infection are traceable to tourists who do not quarantine. NSW somehow allowed the huge cruise ship, Ruby Princess, to disgorge its 2,700 passengers into Sydney without proper health checks by authorities. Now 132 passengers have tested positive AFTER travelling across our country to their destinations – infecting people along the way. Incoming cruise ships are a nightmare. There are 4 cruise ships roaming the seas around Perth in West Australia. Three of these ships have been denied permission to dock. The fourth has almost 800 Australians on board (of 950 passengers) and the government of WA has decided these Australians will go into quarantine on Rottnest Island off the coast. Rottnest has been cleared of other guests. That’s a win for the passengers. Rottnest is a beautiful, wild nature reserve – usually an expensive holiday destination for tourists. As a birdwatcher and bike rider, I can think of no better place to spend 14 days of quarantine!!

And I haven’t even told you about the rudeness and abuse developing on Facebook …

March 25. Sooner or later it had to happen. We had been exhorted to be helpful and look after our neighbours, our old people, our homeless and the strugglers. What is now starting is the rudeness, the lack of empathy, the violence. We all had laughed at the viral video of three large women fighting over an immense pack of toilet rolls in an Australian supermarket. But the laugh was tempered with a realisation that it might come down to this: everyone for themselves, for survival. Granted survival is not a surfeit of toilet rolls, but these behaviours show the fear that lies in all of us. How bad will it get? All very well if you live in Australia or the UK … you might be protected. But what about Africa where soon people might become desperate without means for real survival?

We went to our local Aldi’s today and they now have a security guard at the door. I asked, ‘Are you here to stop hoarding?’ He said, ‘No, to stop people behaving badly when they cannot find stuff they want.’ I have heard that the doctor’s rooms have video cameras on the door and they ask questions before you can enter. I was told by a nurse that one of their newly qualified young doctors was spat on because she would not give the patient something – a test? Who knows? Another young doctor in Sydney is suffering from anxiety and near panic. She said that patients were lying in order to get what they wanted and then getting abusive when denied. So here we go into the nether world. Let’s all read Camus’s The Plague – published the year I was born.

24 March. Planting. I think gardens and cupboards are going to get a workout during this time of isolation. All the jobs we once relegated to the bottom of the list are now our entertainment. To this end, today, we prepared a vegetable patch at home. After all who needs flowers in the time of hamster hoarding? The bed was dug over, the rotten potatoes discarded, the tiny viable ones washed and sorted. We planned our outing to the shops with care, discussing if our destinations were ‘safe’ and essential: the postbox, the vet, the park for dog walking and the plant nursery. Our local plant nursery is in the open so I thought that was kind of OK. I know where the veggies are kept and was amazed to see rows of empty steel shelving – where had they gone? I asked a gardener and he pointed down an isle lined by huge ceramic pots at the end of which a man stood behind a barricade.

‘What would you like,’ he said. ‘Lettuce, please,’ I replied. Behind him he had 3 stacks of shelving bearing vegetable seedlings. (We plant vegetables / crops in late summer to catch the winter rains). ‘You can only have 3 punnets, he said, ‘but only one from each type.’ He told me that there had been such a rush on vegetable seedlings over the weekend they had decided to ration them. New stock would only arrive after Easter. ‘Why?’ I said. He shrugged and suggested that I take more than one punnet. So, I emerged from the nursery with lettuce, bok choy and kale seedlings. I don’t really like bok choy and kale but in these strange times I felt that I had had a WIN – almost as good as securing a 4-pack of ‘dunny’ rolls – but after all, you can steam bok choy and boil the kale to death.

23 March. Our language, our jokes, Instagram images and videos change to deal with new events, new threats. Australian English is versatile and is finding ways to handle and poke fun at the new virus. The ‘dunny’ or toilet (historically at the bottom of the garden in a small corrugated iron shed) has always been a source of jokes in this country. Now that there is a run on ‘dunny’ rolls throughout the land, various country songs have emerged and are causing delight through social media. And in our obsession with having clean hands we have cleared the shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies of ‘sanny’ or hand-sanitizer. Of course, the word coronavirus or COVID-19 is too long and formal for our land – so it is becoming ‘the Rona’. So, we can have a laugh at this frightening virus. Today I heard a ‘tradie’ (tradesman) saying that he hoped he would not get ‘crook’. … We are all hoping that.

15 March. Our world has changed in a few short weeks. The news built slowly, starting with minor items out of Wuhan in China, till a gathering storm of information transformed the world. Now, we can think or talk of little else.

Perhaps in Australia we were sleeping, caught unawares. It was Chinese New Year and thousands of students and family members had returned to China to celebrate, on January 25th, the Year of the RAT, one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The rat is the first animal in the cycle. A devious one, the Rat: he arrived first – probably unexpectedly so – as was the virus. Rat was chosen to be first in the 12-year cycle as he impressed the Jade Emperor by playing the flute on the back of the ox (who was placed second for his generosity).

Perhaps also, animals come into the scene in another way, a sad way. The WHO named the disease on 11 February, as COVID-19 and the virus as SARS-CoV-2. Its origin is believed to be the same as the 2003 SARS-CoV – coming from a ‘wet’ animal market in China. These markets are legal grey area – where wild animals packed in tiny cages are sold alongside the vegetable and meat products. Wild animal meat satisfies the exotic tastes of some Chinese people. Scientists propose that an interaction took place, in some way, between captured bats and palm civet cats (a small nocturnal mammal that looks like a weasel but is not carnivorous). This was the trigger point. Ground Zero. Could the civet have eaten the bat faeces dropping into its cage? Whatever happened, it has unleashed a nightmare on the world.

In Australia, the events of our daily life are changing. On one hand little has changed. The cafes and streets still seem busy in our late summer sun; the roads are full. Bear in mind that Australians love their coffee shops. I know of no one who is ill. Only 20 people in our state have been diagnosed so far – with just under 298 cases and 5 deaths countrywide. 151 of the 298 cases are linked to travellers returning from overseas. Only 82 cases are of unknown origin. Old people have not yet been told to self-isolate. But, I think that is coming soon. We are creating the change: our Federal government has banned all gatherings of 500 people or more and all arrivals of cruise ships. Chinese students are unable to return to university from China – some are using intermediary countries as quarantine stepping stones to return. Within communities, the anxiety has let to further closures – Senior’s clubs and Rotary are cancelling meetings, local bridge club meetings and yoga classes are suspended. Communities are shutting down.

These late summer days in Adelaide, Australia, are perfect: startling sunsets, cool nights and warm dry days. Our verandah grape vines are turning to red and the fig trees are full of Rainbow lorikeets feasting. Around our house the koalas grunt at night – a sound that reminds one of a donkey braying. Soon we will see tiny joeys hanging onto their mother’s backs. The rains will arrive in April as they did last year, but this year April promises to find Adelaide a changed city.

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