The only problem, is that it begins at 8 am and at the moment dawn is 7am. It’s a tall order for a retired person to get into town by 8 am – and in a reasonable state. I managed that this morning and was richly rewarded with a very interesting discussion between three authors and journalist. The discussion centred around the issue of aged care in Australia and the Royal Commission that has tendered its final report to the government.
Australia has an ageing population and, without counting immigration, has a declining population. The government must now consider taking on board the 148 wider-ranging recommendations that are contained in this commission, and this is while the level of public funds being thrown at the age care sector is considerable. (2017–18, the Australian Government spent over $18 billion on aged care). This afternoon, our government announced that another 452 million aud will be spent in this sector. They are printing lots of money.
In two years of hearings, the Commission was presented with countless confronting cases of abuse and neglect in aged care facilities. Something radical had to be done to improve the services provided.
On top of this, there are a hundred thousand people on the waiting list for a package for their age care needs. The top package is valued at 52,000 aud.
I then went to the first session of the day of our Adelaide Writers’ Festival.
We finished the 2020 Festival just before the first lockdown of last year. So, we are delighted that the 2021 Festival is open.
There are two sessions, running concurrently, from 9.30 till 6.15pm, every hour and a quarter. They take place under East and West ‘tents’ – really shades slung under the many trees of the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.
The first session was an interview with Louise Milligan, an investigative reporter for the ABC TV program Four Corners, on the subject of her book, ‘Witness’, an investigation into the brutal cost of seeking justice for victims – mainly of sexual abuse. There is a problem with our system for complainants of sexual crimes. Louise explained how harrowing it is for victims to ask for justice from our system, how the victims are belittled and suffer long term damage psychologically from the process. Many victims suicide. There are lifelong consequences of these crimes.
Well, we have cancelled our trip to Victoria. We decided it was too risky with the threat of Premier Andrews suddenly slapping another sharp lockdown over the whole state. South Australia has not yet lifted the quarantine requirement for those returning from greater Melbourne. And – if we went – all venues still have strict rules of numbers and masks wearing. So instead, we will have a short local holiday on the Yorke Peninsula.
Yesterday I enjoyed a busy, interesting day. I woke up to watch the BBC’s live streaming the landing of the Mars Perseverance Rover. NASA talked about the ‘7 minutes of terror’ as they waited for the landing. The entry, descent and landing phase (EDL) was to take 7 minutes and much could go wrong. Nothing did, and the rocket powered sky crane landed the Rover in the chosen spot in the Jezero Crater. I saw the first images of the Mars terrain sent by the Rover. It looked like our desolate Australian Outback: a curving horizon, some nondescript rocks, pebbles and dust overlaid by the shadow-shape of Rover’s robotic arm. Surely, this was a pretty all-round bloody amazing effort! Not sure anyone would want to move to Mars though! I do wonder about the wisdom of the plan to bring back microbial fossilized rocks from the planet, even if that will only take place in a decade or so.
While the East coast of Australia is being pelted with rain, our three-day heat wave ended yesterday with the arrival of a relatively cool change. Last night was the opening of our Adelaide Fringe Festival (900 events at 392 venues). Our Fringe Festival, Main Adelaide Festival and Writers’ Week will go ahead in controlled circumstances over 3 weeks. There are fewer international artists, many shows are on for a single night and we have to wear masks for all inside shows. Many events have been moved outside.
We attended the preview of A German Life, a play by Christopher Hampton starring Robyn Nevin. The single actor show was first presented at The Bridge Theatre in London in April 2019. Robyn Nevin acts as Brunhilde Pomsel, (1911-2017) (yes, she lived to be 106). Brunhilde lived an extraordinary life and Robyn Nevin took 90 minutes to recount some of it. (Brunhilde was depicted at the end of her life, living in a nursing home.)
Brunhilde Pomsel is most famous for the interviews she gave telling of her years working in the office of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister for Propaganda, where, for example, she massaged down number of German dead and increased the numbers of German women raped by the Russian army. During the show, short video clips of various events in Germany were beamed onto the stage. (eg. Goebbels making his 1943 Sportpalast Speech, or Total War speech – which event Brunhilde attended.) To the end of her life, Brunhilde maintained that she was not guilty of complicity, that she did nothing wrong, that she did not know of the genocide of the Jews.
The director Neil Armfield developed the play during 2020. He spoke in the notes about how much he was aware during that year of the fragility of democracies …’more and more this play seems to be as much about our contemporary world as it is about Hitler’s Germany … in one of Brunhilde’s last interviews she said, “Hitler was elected democratically, and bit by bit he got his own way. Of course, that could always repeat itself with Trump, or Erdogan …”’
It was somewhat shattering to emerge from the confronting expose of Brunhilde’s life into Adelaide’s mild summer evening. My generation all have stories of the Second World War. My father was born in 1911, the same year as Brunhilde. We are the children of those that fought and or suffered in some way from that war. For us, in terms of war and national strife, life has been kind but when I watched on January 6 the madness of Trump’s enraged followers as they attacked the Capitol, I realised that the veneer in our democracies is indeed skin-deep.
I need to write this blog because in years to come I will read it and be amazed at the twists and turns of the politics of Covid-19. (After all it brought down the President of the United States).
So, here in Australia, 7 million Victorians are starting a ‘gold-standard’ 5-day total lockdown – till Wednesday, Feb 17. All borders are closed to Victoria except the NSW border.
Here are the facts as we know it. A returning Australian family (husband, wife and 3 mth year old baby) arrived into Melbourne on Feb 2 and went into quarantine in the airport Holiday Inn. The father is an asthmatic and became breathless with his condition. As required, he was tested before departure for Australia and when he arrived (negative). He says (insists) that he asked, and was told he could use his nebuliser to inhale the necessary Ventolin (Feb 3-4). Unbeknown to him nebulisers are NOT allowed because they create aerosols. The father was now positive, as was his wife, and through use of the nebuliser he passed the infection on to a worker in the hotel and another quarantined traveller who then left the hotel.
Over 1,000 close contacts are now in isolation. But the authorities were in catch up (some sort of unexplained bureaucratic mix up). Before the contact tracers could get their act together (some confusion resulted in a delay), a ‘close contact’ had done a long shift at a café in Melbourne Airport and tested positive. Now they say over 1,000 ‘close’ contacts are in isolation and the Holiday Inn ‘cluster’ has grown to 14.
Today 20,000 tests were done in Victoria. 3,500 passengers passed through Melbourne Airport during the time the café worker was there and, unknown to her, infected. Now all states are ramping up testing. All other states face the possibility of having infected arrivals from Melbourne.
This sudden crack down in the huge city of Melbourne is particularly devastating. They had enduring a 112-day lockdown last year. They were just getting going. This weekend is:
Chinese New Year
Aussie Open in Melbourne (will continue – all matches are now without spectators). All ticket holders will be refunded.
Victorian cafes and restaurants said they had stocked up were fully booked. One restaurant owner said he would lose $40,000 as a result.
Daniel Andrews, ‘the seasoned Labor leader, unparalleled in his mastery of political spin, is again using the classic tactic of deflection to steer attention away from what appears to be yet another failure of quarantine protocol and inadequate processes by Victorian officials.’ (the Weekend Australian, 13 Feb. Simon Benson).
Andrews says he has to bring in this severe lockdown as the virus that has arrived is the new UK strain which he called ‘virulent’ and is 70% more infectious. But those facts are in doubt. Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says that the UK strain is indeed more infectious (the original Wuhan strain – an infected person would pass on the infection to 11 percent of their close contacts – a person infected with the new UK strain would pass on the infections to 14.7 percent of their close contacts.) It is (only) 34% more infectious than the original strain.
Catherine Bennett says, when there are a very few cases, as in Melbourne, spread can be contained by contact tracing, testing and limited suppression strategies. This TOTAL lockdown that Andrews has brought in for infections in four households seems unnecessary. Catherine was quoted as saying, ’We could have put suppression in place to help prevent super-spreader events without closing down every business and putting the state into a full lockdown.’
Unless, of course, your political career depends on your NOT having another break-out on your watch.
Oh, BTW, we are booked to travel to the (miserable) state of Victoria for a 10-day holiday in 10 days time. This time I am not packing till the car is about to start. It’s not looking likely that we will go – none of us wants to be in quarantine on return. We had better start looking for somewhere to go in our own backyard, which after all is rather pleasant.
No one needs an alarm clock in Greece. We have church bells. Every morning at 7:30 am sharp the bells toll for morning service. It’s a cheery burst of eight bouncy peals in bouts of ding, ding, dings. And ends in a burst of dings like a mother clapping her hands in her children’s bedrooms to wake them up and prepare them for the day, ‘Come on guys, up and at ‘em!’ The bells toll again at 8 o’clock, and again at 8:30 in case you missed the first two. At 5:30 pm the bells toll again to raise you from siesta slumber for vespers. You always know what time it is because there are churches, ranging from cathedrals to tiny chapels, everywhere to gladden our hearts.
It’s the sombre single peals in between which pierce them. Each time we hear the mournful tone like a long low groan we all wonder for whom the bell tolls. In our neighbourhood alone nine people have been lost to Covid. (Make that ten, another one died this morning) Beyond our neighbourhood, at the end of my street is a snazzy electrical goods store. It’s owner is a flirty silver fox. I mean, he was. He was taken too. As was the sister of the owner of one of the boutiques in which I shop. As was the real estate agent’s wife and the city’s top lawyer and, and, and. It’s the Grim Reaper. The average age of the victims is dropping. Here in Greece it started at around 78. It’s down to 62. Now, with the mutated strains, there’s a terrifying development. It’s striking children. For that reason, and because our case counts have been steadily rising, Greece just ended its third lockdown.
The pandemic is colour-coded. Red means lockdown. Here in the north we just exited red and have entered Orange. We are doing everything we can to stay out of the red. So, we wear two masks now. Doubling up does help. Also, there are psychological effects in a society like Greece’s of having no physical contact with anyone but your direct family. We’re not used to standing far apart, we’re not used to seeing someone and stepping back. We are all about being up close. In your face, but in the best way. I don’t remember the last time I was hugged, I don’t even remember the last time I’be shaken anyone’s hand. In a society where all people, women, men, other and children greet each other with the traditional double kiss and walk along arm in arm, not being permitted to touch is creating an atmosphere alien to the Hellenic way of life.
It’s been unseasonably warm. We are literally having the famed halcyon days. And they are glorious. It’s a divine feeling walking around in a light shirt in the middle of winter. But in a couple of days it will all be over. The Halcyon phenomenon has passed for this year. The forecast is a severe drop in temperature, to around -10, and snow. At least if we are housebound the pandemic doesn’t seem so bad. A positive can be made from this negative by keeping the home cosy.
So, I will shop this week for more groceries than usual just in case the streets become snowbound. Something will always be simmering on the stove. The home will always have the aroma of freshly baked bread, pies, cakes and cookies and I shall keep doing my 7 minute high intensity workouts to compensate. I find I’m watching television a lot more, and videos online. It’s my version of conversation. I watched the famous interview of Cormack McCarthy with Oprah on YouTube. In it McCarthy says he was never bothered by anything as long as he had food and shoes. He says you can get by without lots of things but without food and shoes you can’t do much.
We are all spending a lot more time in our slippers seeing as we are indoors most of the time so the shoes are not a problem. And I’ll just keep the food coming. I cook every day for my mother and her sister who lives on the fifth floor of our building. They love traditional Greek food as well as the old byzantine recipes. So today I’m making them Imam Bayeldi the sumptuous eggplant dish that was so delicious the imam for whom it was cooked fainted, either from the intense flavour or from the amount of olive oil it takes to cook it in. That’s what Imam Bayeldi means, the imam fainted. To go with it I made them one of their favourite comfort foods, Atzem Pilaf. It’s a divinely fragrant pilaf, cinnamon scented and studded with slivers of toasted almonds. April, they say. It will take until April to bring the situation under control. That’s what the modelling is telling the health experts. Until April we must remain on full alert and in some form of lockdown. Until April.
This week our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, hosted a ‘National Cabinet’ meeting. This is his extra-political Covid-19 group, an ‘intergovernmental decision-making forum’ including the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers. It is apparent that this is a challenging business for the Prime Minister and one where decisions in a time of pandemic are important to get right – for our country and for his political future. Eleven months have passed since this group was formed and the various state leaders are getting more and more techy and determined in their self-opiniated ways of dealing with Covid-19. (5 Labor, 3 Liberal politicians) . For the PM it must be like herding eight feral cats through a narrow door.
Obviously, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would like the gathering of premiers and ministers to discuss the issues relating to the pandemic in a reasonable, if not rational way. Everyone, of course, says they are following the science of medical advice. The trouble is there are various medical advisors and interpretations.
The issue of quarantining returning Australians from overseas (and various other travellers) is one that divides and stresses our states’ leaders. The press calls these differences, ‘deep rifts’. The Labour Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and the ultra-cautious West Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, would like the federal government to be more proactive in the face of the new more contagious strains of Covid 19. Everyone loves to have someone to blame.
The numbers of travellers are small. Over 210,000 international travellers have gone into hotel quarantine in Australia. 1.4% have returned a positive Covid test. 82 hotel staff involved in the quarantine process became infected. At the moment, just over 6,000 Australians (and tennis players!) are arriving per week directly into the various major cities. The states are responsible for their own quarantine systems and have thus reacted in different ways. Recently, Western Australia had a severe five-day lockdown after a single worker in the Sheraton Hotel contracted the virus – perhaps through airflow. He had a second job as an Uber or rideshare driver. Victoria and NSW recently each had single quarantine workers infected and those states used ‘hotspot’ strategy, finding out where the individual had travelled while infected.
The sporadic infections in quarantine continue. There is the story of how one quarantined family opened the door of their hotel room to gather in their meal, deposited in the corridor, and managed to infect the family across the hallway. So now we are becoming aware that the virus is far more airborne than previously thought. It is likely to travel through air conditioning systems in large establishments like quarantine hotels.
So the question is: should quarantining decisions be delegated to states? Are hotels suitable quarantine facilities? It appears that hotels have multiple gaps in their infection prevention systems. For example, corridors need separate ventilations systems; quarantine workers should not have second jobs and should wear masks even in corridors (perhaps double masks as they are recommending overseas).
So now our federal government is in process of investigating whether to organise remote quarantine stations outside of our major cities – more like refugee villages. Perhaps in Toowoomba outside of Brisbane or remote islands. Thus, our cities would be protected and we can lessen the impact on our lives in 2021-2022-2023. The support staff and health staff would be isolated in these camps as well. The Prime Minister compares this idea to fly-in fly-out remote mining camps where you stay for two weeks at a time. Rottnest Island has aleady been used for Vasco da Gama cruise passengers in March last year. Remember that Australia is a country of a few major cities and lots of space. (16 out of 25 million live in the 6 major cities).
I think that all countries should take note. This is probably the way of the future. Can you imagine the situation when most people are vaccinated, but, with international travel, people arrive from across the world and require quarantine? We will have sporadic outbreaks for years to come. Maybe new strains will be arriving having bred in the countries that could not get access to enough vaccine. Maybe the virus will become less deadly, maybe our vaccines can be adapted fast enough and given out fast enough to dampen down the world threat. Reading about how wealthy countries are hoarding vaccine supplies and how third world countries are struggling to get access, I am not optimistic.
My daughter in Seattle was told by a friend working in childcare that they were advised that this situation may continue for years to come. Up to 2025. We could be living in a world of social distancing, sporadic outbreaks, new strains with strange numbering systems, reduced local and international travel and concern about all sorts of flu-like symptoms.
Our PM is now talking about vaccination rollout starting at the end of this month. Bearing in mind that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now in question.
‘On Monday morning South African authorities said they would suspend use of the AstraZeneca shot after clinical data showed it gave minimal protection against B.1.351, a variant of SARS-CoV-2 which contains several mutations that cut the ability of antibodies to neutralise the virus. (Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 8 Feb, 2021).
‘Know your virus variants
Three mutant varieties of COVID-19, first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, are more resistant to vaccines than the original strain.
The BritishB.1.1.7 variant was first seen in September.
There is some evidence, although not concrete, that the new variant may be slightly more deadly.
At this stage, evidence suggests the variant slightly reduces the effect of vaccine-generated antibodies but not enough to pose major problems.
The variant has several mutations that seem to make it significantly more transmissible. It has rapidly spread through the United Kingdom and is now emerging across the world.
South Africa’sB.1.351is also known as N501Y.V2. It was first spotted in South Africa in October last year.
It concerns scientists because it has picked up a large number of different mutations.
These mutations may make it more transmissible. It is not known if they make it more deadly.
Human data suggests, but does not prove, these mutations allow the virus to reinfect people who have natural immunity to COVID-19.
Early data suggests the variant’s mutations cut the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, by varying amounts depending on the vaccine.
Less is known about the P.1 variant first spotted in Brazil.
It bears similar mutations to the South African variant, which scientists suspect may give it the ability to evade antibodies.’
Our Christmas present from Seattle USA, from my daughter and family there, arrived late. Australia is having problems with shipments from across the world: books from Amazon, Aldi’s Chinese specials, cars, furniture and all those nick-knacks in the 2-dollars shops. Amongst the presents was a PORTAL, the latest device from Facebook, a counter to Amazon’s Alexa’s Echo.
I like the word, ‘portal’. It has currency in the computer world but as a child, I devoured TheLion, the Witch & Wardrobe, the Narnia books, by C.S. Lewis. What a marvellous story. The part where Lucy, playing hide-and-seek, is hiding in the cupboard amongst the winter coats and suddenly feels a cold draft behind her captivated me, as it did so many of my generation. (Do kids still read? Sorry!! – do kids read the Narnia series?). Now THAT was a portal, a magic portal into a world of good and evil, of temptation, suffering and fortitude. I suppose not much different to the world we find ourselves in – without a portal to escape away from.
This Christmas-gift-Portal, a communication device, with its wide 10-inch screen, now sits on our kitchen counter between the set of knives and a more distant toaster – sadly, it won’t teleport me to Seattle or to Capetown.
It is about the size of an horizontal iPad with built-in Alexa and video calling using Messenger and Whatsapp. I know Facebook is unpopular in many circles but this device is amazing. Maybe I cannot see the ‘cons’ yet. The 13-megapixel wide-angle camera (114 degrees) follows you in the room so your caller has a sense of place and activity. It makes a Zoom call look boring. With the Portal you can add people to your call using Whatsapp. I am not sure how many people can be in a family or conference call. With our family spread across the world this is a delight! Other Apps can be added – we direct Spotify through the stereo speakers and back woofer.
When I am alone in the kitchen the Portal streams my photos from Whatsapp and Facebook in a random manner. And it becomes a portal into my past life. I am seeing images from our travels 8 years ago.
In a way seeing these happy images is disturbing because I realise that as time passes in our world, locked down with Covid-19, there will less ability for us to do what we used to do relatively easily. Will we be able to take up our cancelled holidays with alacrity? If this world-wide travel shutdown continues this year, as it appears it might, that will be 2 years taken off our lives when we might have seen our families and taken journeys to distant places.
Our planned April 2020 trip to Indonesia to sail on Seatrek Bali’s beautiful phinisi, the Ombak Putih, to remote islands will not take place in April 2021 although our booking was transferred. April 2022? Will we be fit enough to go? Will the company be still in business? Our challenge this week is, once more, to open up the files on insurance policies and see if we can take the claim further now that travelling this April 2021 is out of the question.
We have flight credits for Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines, Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand. All have use-by dates. At the moment, we can plan a local intra-Australian trip – book flights and accommodation – but might find that it is cancelled due to the on-again, off-again border closures. One person wrote in the weekend papers that he had had 3 trips to Queensland aborted due to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closing borders.
Another example – yesterday, the Western Australia Premier – on a few hours’ notice has shut down the whole of Perth and SW Regions for 5 days because a single case of the more virulent virus has escaped from a quarantine hotel into the community. What about people there on holiday or planning a holiday in the short term? It must be beyond frustrating for the travel industry.
The virus is rampant is many parts of the world and the incidents of new variants bubbling up in such places makes me think that we are not going to be on top of Covid-19 for some time. We all looked to vaccines to be our way back to ‘normal’ life and luckily many vaccines are proving effective. BUT – how to vaccinate the world? The challenges and obstacles are considerable – the cost seems to be only one of the issues – hoarding by richer countries – corruption in many countries – lower effectiveness of some of the vaccines which have not been tested by the west (Sputnik) – slower production. And of course, there are the rabid anti-vaxxers – mostly in the USA courtesy of Past-President Trump. While all this is going on, won’t the virus be mutating? Of course, it will be. Normally, viruses become less deadly. Will Covid-19 follow this ‘rule’? The good news is that this virus apparently mutates slowly.
I am thinking that our new Portal will remain our window into our past, revealing the open, free lives we led only a year ago.
I must not complain. It can become a habit! Yesterday, I took our three-quarter blind Cairn-terrier, Roy dog to the local park for a late-afternoon very slow walk; he sniffed his way from tree to tree. Cricket (in traditional whites) was in progress on the Kensington Gardens Oval and families were packing up their picnics while children screamed around the playground. And while I was admiring the huge lemon-scented gums along the creek, I managed to record a family of laughing kookaburras singing their iconic ‘song’ of chortles and gurgles. Here they are. (PS. Did you notice the blue skies?).
That’s what the news reader said last night. Golgotha. The hill upon which Christ was crucified. It’s the term Greeks use for a difficult journey. The journey is the year ahead. I would rather refer to this as our Odyssey. At least after the Odyssey ended, Odysseus was home again on Ithika with his beloved wife and family, safe and sound, Back to all that was familiar. On Golgotha there was just suffering and death.
Speaking of death, my father died a couple of months ago. It was not a tragic death. He was almost 93 years old and had well and truly lived his own Odyssey. The tragedy was that he died during this pandemic and only eight people were permitted to attend his funeral.
I still have no idea when I can return home to Australia. They’ve done such a magnificent job there but then they’re in such a unique position with their geographical isolation they could simply shut the borders. Also I believe the Australian lifestyle contributes to its success with Covid as well. I wonder if my fellow Australian citizens would agree with me. We tend to stay out of peoples business. Many of us go into our homes at night and don’t leave again till the morning. The once sacred ritual of morning or afternoon tea has almost disappeared. We simply don’t invite many people over and most of us don’t even know many of our neighbours names. Here in Greece it’s a completely different story. Life is lived outside – hail, sleet, snow, wind, rain or shine. Everybody knows everybody’s business. It’s the law almost.
People always go out. The lifestyle has been built around it, making people stop in the middle of the day to go home and have a nap so they can go out again. ￼In Australia the first question someone asks you is – what do you do? In Greece the first question someone asks you is – whose child are you? Everybody knows who you are, what you’re doing there and what your background is and if they don’t know they will stop you to find out, many, many times till the whole neighbourhood knows exactly who they are dealing with￼.
Still speaking of death, I’ve discovered something since the passing of my father. He feared death more than anything. I once caught him praying to God to keep him alive, not for any noble reason such as to live to see a certain event or to achieve a certain goal but just to keep existing. The saga of his illness, his weaknesses, his dramatic decline and the intensive care he required – all administered by me – is a huge story itself. I’ll just go straight to the end and the moment I found him in his bed. He’d passed away in his sleep. The look on his face was of sheer wonderment. It was so beautiful all I could do was sit next to him and gaze upon him for several minutes. His wrinkles had gone and he looked young and handsome and happy. He died looking at something beautiful. Again, it’s so much to go into and it’s not appropriate on a forum for Covid 19 I suppose but the point I’m making is it made me not fear death. Let’s just say there were some experiences I felt and saw that made this cynical nonbeliever realise there is another dimension and it’s not a bad place.
I now know what we must fear and act against – is illness.
Death is not hell, illness is. When there is someone ill in the family the entire family get sick with them – in one way or another. Again that’s a whole other huge story but I think you all know what I mean.
I know there are so many other things to fear and act upon such as fighting for equality and preserving our environment and all that but taking care of our personal health and being responsible for our actions is the single greatest thing we can do for our family, our community and our planet. A healthy world needs healthy people. Other than non-Covid illness and accidents, take care everyone.
Here in Greece wearing a mask is not questioned any more – it’s just a fact. I’m developing a mask wardrobe. I have a nice leopard print one too! Boutiques are selling glamorous sequinned ones for night time – not that we can go anywhere yet.
However, the government made one significant step last week. Shops were permitted to open. Cafes and restaurants are still not permitted to operate normally but the shops opened up. They did declare it an experiment because people were becoming stir crazy after so much strict lockdown. We are still under curfew, no one is allowed out after 9 pm, but we can go shopping.
We are all very nervous about it though. Before the shops opened our daily case count was sitting at around 500. It dropped to low as 250 a few days ago for the last couple of days it’s gone up to 800 to 850. Tonight’s numbers might change everything again. We fear having to enter a third lockdown so much that I must say we are all super careful. You no longer see anyone unmasked on the streets and the shops have people at the door to ensure distancing is adhered to. There are no longer any arguments or declarations of lack of rights. Everyone now realises we are all responsible for each other.
So my friends I don’t think this forum is over. We still have our Golgotha to climb, our Odyssey to travel. Fortunately we live in this age with such technology and the ability to communicate and advanced medical treatments. It’s nowhere near as bad as our poor ancestors had to endure back in 1918.
It’s time for me to go out now. I’m masked up and I’m going to buy cod roe to make taramasalata, the real stuff not that pink dyed stuff you buy in plastic tubs.
How is everyone doing? Be great to hear updates from everyone else on how good or not good the situation is where they are.
Do you know what that means?
Yia sou? It’s the traditional Greek greeting for hello and goodbye and yelled out joyously before taking a drink. Yia sou is short for Στην υγειά σου. To your health. Stay healthy, look after your health, go in health, health is everything – all those cliches, but one thing I know is when you’re healthy you can do anything and everything, make money, make love, travel, explore, experiment, experience. When you’re not healthy you can’t do anything.
The ‘Red Emergency Warning’ on our Alert SA Apps is the one to fear if the map covers your home. Unless you have a house that is defendable you should have already left the area. By this stage, the roads out may be blocked. Safety now lies remaining in your home and you hope that the CFS (Country Fire Service) will come and help you. The CFS publish recommendations on what to do when a firefront goes over your house. You just hope you have read and remember them.
‘You are now in danger. Take shelter in a solid building. … For updates listen to your local ABC radio station on a battery powered radio.’
Yesterday, a fire started in the Adelaide Hills, 17 kms to our south-west. The fire quickly exploded into the Cherry Gardens’ eucalyptus forests and the hills and steep valleys of the precious Scott Creek Conservation Park. Many koalas and other slow-moving animals have perished.
It is now reported that the fire was deliberately lit. There were various ignition spots. The alleged perpetrator was apprehended at the scene – a 60 year old man 3 times over our legal alcohol limit.
Over 400 fire fighters battled the fire on the 42 degree day as it spread towards some larger towns. The fire quickly burnt 2,700 hectares destroying 17 out-buildings and at least 2 homes. No deaths reported. People evacuated their horses and other animals onto cricket ovals and many messages of support went out on social media. The fire had a perimeter of 28 kms.
This morning, still hot, we awoke to the strong smell of smoke and the sight of Adelaide covered in grey. Many people posted pictures of the immense clouds forming over the Hills.
We watched the weather maps for the promised rain. At first the weather system slid past us to the south, to Kangaroo Island, but in the early afternoon the rain came: over 30 mm fell over the fire ground. It was most welcome. I took our dog walking in the warm rain. However, it will take more than one day of rain to put out this fire. It will smoulder in the forests, in the burning logs.
They have not yet counted the cost in terms of the conservation park and its wealth of native creatures.
Images taken from the Channel 9 News and on the right, a waterfall on our driveway.
First, I have to record my joy at the events of 20 January, 2021. What a relief!
When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need to worry there’ll be days like this When no one’s in a hurry there’ll be days like this When you don’t get betrayed by that old Judas kiss Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need an answer, there’ll be days like this When you don’t meet a chancer there’ll be days like this When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit it Then I must remember there’ll be days like this …
Surely, Van Morrison had in mind one of those rare times when (unexpectedly) everything comes right. When you can live fully in the moment, be somewhere special with those you love, and suddenly realise that what you are feeling is contentment and it might even be the edge of happiness.
I have to say that when Biden and Harris were sworn in and there were no untoward incidents, I felt we (those who felt Trump was a disaster for the USA and for the World) could not ask for more. It was a rocky ride from election night, with the uncertainty of the following days, waiting through the 62 election law suits Trump raised (61 failed and he raised US$200 million to fight them). The courts held firm, the electoral system held firm and finally Mike Pence did not roll over in the face of the attacking mob, enraged by Trump.
So, for a little while, we can bask in the sense that we might be heading to a more stable, sensible, kind USA, led by a team of people prepared to roll back Trump’s xenophobic enactments.
On the other hand, here at home in South Australia, today is one of those summer days when the temperatures rises over 40°, we draw the curtains against the glare and the hot windows, we huddle inside and hope the power is not cut.
It is hard to describe just how strange it is when the temperature is 35° at 8.30 am with a strong gusty wind and the humidity level is around 14%. These are dangerous numbers. We were up early watering and switching on the sprinklers. We put out basins of water for the birds, the koalas and the bees. I noticed our resident koala climbing down out of a tree. They know what kind of day it is going to be. In the mid-afternoon when the temperature was 40 degrees C (104F), I looked for and found him – or found his grey furry back as he is buried deep in a pile of succulents at the base of the tree – seeking some sort of shelter.
We have not had rain for weeks and the countryside is brown and tinder dry. The eucalyptus trees around our house are dropping their leaves and our gutters gather their wind-blown drifts.
We are all recommended to have an emergency ‘Bushfire Survival Plan’ for days such as this. ‘Be Bushfire Ready!’
The first decision is whether to go or to stay and that decision must be made long before any fire front is close. Most deaths during catastrophic fire events are due to people leaving their properties too late. Some of our friends, who live in the Adelaide Hills surrounded by forest, pack their dogs, cats and other precious items in the car and spend the day in town with relatives. They realise there is no way that they can defend their houses which are surrounded by towering eucalyptus.
Our plan is to STAY and defend, in the event of a bushfire. We are on the fringe of the city fringe facing north. The dangerous fires come from the north with a hot wind out of the centre of Australia. We are sort of prepared. But most dangerous is an ember attack and that can come from any direction.
On the top of our house there are water sprinklers. The plan is that the water will fill the gutters (we have to block the down-pipes with sand-filled socks) and prevent flying embers getting sucked into the roof. But the sprinklers are powered by an electric motor and in the event of a fire in this area the power would most likely be turned off.
We also have a petrol fire pump, which I would struggle to start! In the house, we keep a bucket in the laundry filled with the gear that you would need in the event of firefighting: leather gloves, cotton long-sleeved shirts, blankets, etc. (No artificial materials that melt on your skin).
Finally, we have a ‘bolt hole’ under the house with a fireproof door and backed by the water tank – where we store our wine!
We all have smart phone apps (Alert-SA) that warn us of any fire within a circle of say, 10 km. You can see from the image where the current fires are in South Australia. At the moment, there are 12 fires listed and only three of these are ‘contained’. Every time I look, there is another fire listed. One larger fire, Cherry Brook, is on the edge of getting into a precious national park called Scott Creek. They also list how many ‘units’ (think fire-trucks and aircraft) are attending the fire and what type of fire it is. (grass, forest, vehicle, building …)
This time last year Australia, was ravaged by fire like never before. Since then, with La Niña we have had rains in most of the country and the drought is over but for a few isolated patches. Even so, summer means fire season for us in South Australia – the driest state in the driest continent in the world. ‘On a continual quest for water’.
UPDATE ON THE 2021 AUSTRALIAN OPEN.
Today it has been reported that 10 of the 72 people associated with the Aussie Open (players, coaches and supporters), all who are in quarantine, are infected with Covid-19 and 3 of them have the new UK Covid-19 variant strain. The player, Paula Badosa, who complained about quarantine rules, has now tested positive. She is now apologising profusely. Three of the 15 flights chartered by Aussie Open Admin for the players had infected people on board.
Victoria State has had 18 days without community transmission, they certainly don’t want any infection to escape due to the 2021 Aussie Open being held in Melbourne.
In the days to come, more news will surely evolve from this tennis story!
Our son, David, was a professional tennis player on the ATP Circuit for 15 years until 2003. Every January we would be at the Australian Open in Melbourne supporting him: sitting on the sidelines anxiously watching match after match. David succeeded as a Men’s doubles and Mixed doubles player and won two Grand Slam titles and 19 ATP titles.
The Australian Open (AO) is one of the ITF’s four Grand Slams on the circuit and a ‘must-attend’ for every professional tennis player. Just getting into the main draw is a huge achievement. The money and points they can earn at the Grand Slams is a major drawcard for all players. The players all say they love coming to Australia and the tournament is well run. Sometimes they would play run-up tournaments in Brisbane or New Zealand or in Dubai on the way.
I need hardly explain how big an event this tournament is for Australians, for all tennis enthusiasts and for sports fans worldwide. If you did not get tickets to attend Melbourne Park, two weeks in January were spent watching the tennis on TV. The sound of the ball smacking back and forth was a backdrop to our days. We did not have to stay up until the midnight hours as we had to for the French Open or Wimbledon. The AO is our local Grand Slam.
With Covid-19 changing our world, holding the Australian Open was put in doubt. How to bring players, their coaches and their entourage to Australia safely? How to manage the crowds?
It was finally negotiated that the AO would be delayed to begin on February 8th, that players would come in early and quarantine for 2 weeks and then play. Qualifying rounds were to be held offshore in Dubai (men) and Doha (women). All teams would be tested before they leave, and when they arrived on our shores. During quarantine they would be allowed out to practice and exercise for 5 hours a day in controlled circumstances. What could go wrong?
Tickets have gone on sale with special arrangements in place. ‘The Australian Open has a new game plan to ensure the safety of everyone onsite. As part of this focus, the Melbourne Park precinct will be divided into three zones, each including one of our three major arenas. Each zone offers its own unique combination of live experiences, food and beverage and tennis action. Please note that your ticket is specific to a zone, and travel between zones is not permitted after entry.‘
It all seemed set to go ahead smoothly. Except ….
The new covid-19 strain is very infectious. Apparently three people on the first tennis-player charter flight tested negative when they left LA and were found to be positive when they landed: one crew member, one coach and one journalist. All the people on that flight have now been put into HARD quarantine. Since then, passengers on another two flights with AO players and supporters have been found to be infected and all passengers have joined the others. Now 72 players are in hard lockdown quarantine. (Some of these details are now in dispute – were the infected people really infectious or were they just ‘viral shedding’ and not infections? A fine point.)
This means, no practicing, no leaving of their hotel rooms. There is much complaining! Tennis players don’t like being confined. They have honed their skills and their training to reach peak performance at the AO, the first of the four Grand Slams. The difference between winning and losing (often after 4 hours on court for the men) might come down to one or two points. You have to be on top of your game.
And there is the money!
A first-round loser in the main draw wins $100,000 (USD 76,850). The total pool of prize money is $80 million AUD. The prize pool has increased 12% from last year. And your chances of getting past the first round are enhanced if you are seeded. Seeding depends mostly on ranking and ranking depends on your ATP points. Here is the men’s ranking.
Ranking depend on points earned in tournaments. More points means higher ranking and less chance of being knocked out in the first rounds. The points are accumulated and drop off when you play the same tournament the next year. Thus, all those players who did well in the 2020 AO will be defending those points this year. They don’t want to miss out.
And players are skittish. They are highly tuned physically and mentally and the idea of being subject to HARD lockdown is causing great anxiety. Based on the timing, they will have one week to get back into fitness before the tournament begins.
Novak Djokovic, the former president of the ATP Player Council, and no 1 ranked men’s singles player, has demanded that Tennis Australia provides ‘equal and better conditions for all players stuck in quarantine’.
Here are his demands:
Fitness and training material in all rooms.
Decent food for all players, after a number of players complained about their food on day one of quarantine.
Fewer overall days of isolation for the players hotel quarantine, while also carrying out more COVID tests.
Permission for players to visit their coach or physical trainer, as long as both have passed COVID tests.
Permission for players and coaches to be on the same floor of the hotel, if they pass COVID tests.
Relocation of many tennis players as possible to private houses with a court for their isolation period.
Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, was NOT sympathetic. He has said that the rules applied to the tennis players were the same for everyone else: that they were advised of the conditions before they left and they knew the risks. There’s no negotiating with him!
Some media are saying that the AO will not go ahead, others say it must be delayed. And then there is a vocal outcry about allowing ANY players in. After all, 37,000 Australians are struggling to get back home. Emirates airlines have cancelled all flights to three major Australian centres (they will still fly into Perth) due to ‘operational requirements’. They say it is not economical. No more Emirates. Our government is now promising they will charter 20 flights to bring Australians home. Due to arrival restriction in major cities these flights will land in Northern Territory, Canberra and Tasmania.