A brief note on 2020, 2021, 2022 & living with COVID-19
This article just came out and after reading and some further discussion, it prompted me to write a bit:
I don’t pretend to be an expert on these things, but here’s a brief note for those who might find it helpful.
Life since the pandemic began has been exhausting, mentally and physically. We all know this.
For those of us in the entertainment and events industry, it’s been particularly fraught. I’ve been fortunate to be doing ‘music’ in some form full-time for the past 3 years, but the price of ‘living the dream’ means that I, like so many others, am vulnerable to once in a generation events like this pandemic. We rely on social gatherings for a living and they’ve all been cancelled. Not only that, but flickering hopes continue to be dashed every time we have to reschedule further and further into the future.
In Australia, various forms of welfare payment have helped keep noses above water, but they’re due to run out soon. Many of us have to find other forms of work to survive.
I want this pandemic to end and things to go back to normal as much as anyone. I want my livelihood back and I want my friends and family to go back to enjoying their jobs and passions again too.
However, I do understand why these restrictions are in place
My understanding is that we have restrictions for the following reasons
- To avoid a highly contagious virus spreading quickly and overwhelming the health care system with cases
- Related: avoiding a high number of additional deaths caused by this (not just deaths from the virus, but also deaths due to the inability to care for patients suffering other ailments because there aren’t enough beds/doctors/nurses available)
- To limit the spread of the virus so that it does not mutate as quickly into something far more contagious and deadly
Yes, the ideal scenario would have been for the entire world to go into lockdown for a month and snuff out the virus as soon as it was detected
Unfortunately we’re past that and the global pandemic is upon us
In Australia, we’ve done a good job of avoiding spread through the population, which has meant restrictions relaxing in most places, enough to be able to go out and visit friends and family, go to shops and even enjoy some entertainment
However, the spread of cases in the rest of the world has let the team down on 2 fronts.
- People are dying
- The virus is able to mutate more quickly
So this means that when someone infected comes into Australia from overseas, unless they are quarantined effectively, the strain of the virus they are carrying with them can easily get into the population
This is why we seem to be yo-yoing between relaxed measures and restrictions, because we haven’t completely closed borders and want to be able to bring people home. Quarantine is the price we pay.
As a vaccine becomes available, there will still be a long period of restrictions to follow, because it’ll depend on how effective the vaccine is. If the virus has remained in the population for a long time and mutated millions of times, the vaccine might not be as effective as it otherwise could be.
By continuing with social distancing and quarantine restrictions for international travel, we reduce the chances of that happening and improve the effectiveness of a vaccine.
In this regard, the UK and US (and some other countries allowing the virus to run rampant) are letting the team down. We’ve already seen mutations of the virus reaching other countries.
Now, you might have your own views on how many deaths are acceptable, or how deaths from COVID-19 compare to other causes of death, etc. Of course there is a threshold i.e. we don’t go into lockdown every time someone gets stung by a bee. But health professionals and epidemiologists (i.e. people who specialise in studying viruses) are the ones who can do the maths and tell you just what that threshold number would be. Clearly, we are in it now.
Just look at the Netherlands, going into yet another lockdown after having enjoying relative freedom only a couple of months ago. They have suffered thousands of deaths now. Some of these deaths are being caused by the overflow of the health care system. We saw how bad things were in Italy several months ago, I’m amazed that we still haven’t learned from that experience.
So whilst the effect of restrictions feels oppressive, we are fairly fortunate in Australia overall, so far. The good thing is that Australia (and New Zealand) seem commited to this approach until a vaccine rollout is complete and its effectiveness is deemed appropriate.
The other thing to consider is – we are fortunate that this pandemic is relatively benign. Just imagine if we were beset with a far more deadly and contagious virus (of the kind you see in the movies). We would be so unbelievably destroyed and in fear. This pandemic hasn’t created the same fear in most people, but it has hopefully inspired thought about how to avoid the unneccesary spread of any kind of virus.
I miss the dance floor. I miss playing for people. I miss the unmatched vibe of a packed club or festival. I’m optimistic and determined that they should and will come back, fairly soon.
But my initial hope – that this would all blow over in a matter of months – has given way to a more sobering realisation that it’ll probably be a solid 2 years. Best case scenario, this virus doesn’t become something much worse and the rest of the world is able to vaccinate within a year. Best case scenario, the vaccine is effective and perhaps becomes part of our annual seasonal shot, like the flu shot. Side note: ever wonder why we’re supposed to get the flu shot every year? It’s become the flu mutates and last year’s vaccine is no longer effective. This is likely to be a similar deal.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that unfortunately there won’t be many Bird’s Robe gigs happening for a while, at home or overseas. Even though travel might be possible in a couple of months, there are going to be quarantine restrictions that make it completely unviable for artists to be able to do shows. The risk of being stuck in a sudden quarantine, even just travelling interstate, is too big for most artists, especially those with young families. We can’t risk going to the UK for 2 festival shows and then having to quarantine for 2 weeks upon returning. We can’t even risk going to Brisbane, a sudden outbreak occurring and then being forced to quarantine for 2 weeks before returning home to Sydney. When the nation is vaccinated and things are more manageable, then this risk reduces and we can commit to more events.
In the future, if we’re doing well, we might be in a situation where Australians can travel to other countries without needing quarantine on arrival. However, we’ll almost certainly still be required to quarantine when returning. In the further future, it might just be that those who are vaccinated can travel freely without quarantine, or without quarantine if they test negative. That’s probably a cost that most artists can handle.
At the moment, my reading of the situation is that, absolute best case…
- It’ll take until October to vaccinate Australia
- It’ll take until early 2022 to vaccinate the rest of the world
- If the vaccine is effective, we might see Australia ‘go back to normal’ domestically by November/December (with some limits and possible restrictions still in place)
- If the vaccine is effective, we might see borders open by mid-2022
So rescheduling some of our existing tours and events is going to be based around that. At this stage, it’s not just about trying to get things happening ASAP. It’s also about wanting people to feel comfortable at shows, feel confident that the event can go ahead and that it won’t be cancelled at the last moment. It’s also about putting artists in a viable position to be able perform, travel and also know that playing certain venues/cities will be viable based on ticket sales. I expect it’s going to take a little while for some people to rebuild confidence in going out and partying again.
In the meantime, we’re going to keep busy. There are plenty of projects planned, but the ability to recoup on them financially via touring is very limited. We might be able to put on the occasional seated show for artists who are able to perform in those situations. But when we’re in the middle of a new spike in cases, it doesn’t feel responsible to plan and announce such dates. The period we were in back in November, doing the We Lost The Sea, Solkyri, Dream Cities and Furnace dates with seating and limited capacity was safer and more reasonable. Then a couple cases arrive with international arrivals in December and it’s a new and different situation now.
Economically, the Government probably needs to extend their welfare program for the hospitality, tourism and events industries. Whilst people working jobs like construction, law, teaching and accounting are able to continue working (albeit some in modified circumstances), others are unable to work at all. For a multi billion dollar set of industries to be cut off at the end of March seems crazy. Maintaining the expertise and business structures for industries that were flourishing pre-COVID-19 is a worthwhile investment to ensure a massive economic recovery is possible in the future.
I’ve seen a lot of discourse about how this time will result in great feats of creative output. Of course, we all want that. But please understand though – this isn’t ‘time off.’ It’s just as much a struggle for creatives living in lockdown as it is for everyone else. It could be much worse, there are even some benefits to slowing down the treadmill of touring, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s always good times. Especially for those who rely on live music income for their bills – it’s a daily, weekly, monthly battle to fight to keep afloat now. Being able to enjoy making music and other art usually comes after knowing your life and your family isn’t at risk of suffering further.
The support of fans throughout this whole time has been pretty amazing and heart-warming. I’ve also admired the resilience of artists to keep making music and keep going through all of this. I’ve tried to match that myself where I can. I’m really looking forward to some cool things happening this year and sharing them with everyone soon.
Let’s just hope that once we get through this, it remains a once in a generation pandemic. At least we know what to do (or not to do), if/when/hopefully never there is a next time. We’ll get there, just might take a bit longer than expected. More good times are coming soon.
PS feel free to touch base to chat anytime – I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
PPS further reading: