A couple of days ago we had a glimpse of what Covid-Normal may look like.
We live in rural Victoria, close by the (closed) border with New South Wales, and while we don’t have anything like the level 4 strict lockdown in Melbourne, cafes and restaurants are takeaway only, facemasks are compulsory everywhere, and we’re not really supposed to go anywhere except for shopping, medical treatment and exercise, and even then we’re not supposed to go that far from home.
Our world has shrunk to the small town we live in and a couple of shopping centres in the nearest towns our side of the border.
However, last year, J started a course of treatment to fix an orthodontic problem, and had the first part of the treatment in November. The bushfires in January when we were on watch and act delayed the second of the four visits to February this year, and then the first Covid-19 lockdown delayed the third session, when all the dentists were closed.
We finally got the session rescheduled for late July, which was unfortunate, as they closed the border a few days before, and the small town where we live was outside of the blue zone, which meant we couldn’t cross, as J’s treatment was classed as non-urgent,
So we waited.
When the border closed, we’d moved the appointment to last week, hoping that the border would have reopened by then.
Well they sort of did and they didn’t. The week before J’s appointment, NSW relaxed the rules for border residents and expanded the blue zone meaning that while we still had to apply for permits to travel, J could go for her treatment, and I could go with her in case she was too zonked from the anaesthetic to drive back.
So, last Friday we went for a drive to Albury. Normally Albury-Wodonga functions as one city, with the border running through the middle, just like cross border cities in Schengen zone Europe in happier times. Now of course, it’s cut in half, with people living on one side and working on the other, or kids at school on one side and the family on the other, and the border regulations restricting who can cross – until last week basically medical personnel and other essential workers.
Following advice from the dental clinic, we avoided the main city centre crossings, and drove 25km or so downriver to a rural border crossing – in fact the one at Howlong where Ned Kelly used to smuggle stolen horses across from Victoria to NSW in the 1880s, when of course they were separate colonies.
This turned out to be good advice. There was one car in front of us in the queue and more NSW cops to check permits than there were people wanting to cross.
The cops were friendly and helpful, scanned our permits, checked our drivers licenses, and commiserated with J at having to spend a lovely spring day at the dentist.
And then we were in New South Wales. As always, NSW looks subtly different from Victoria. Orange road maintenance trucks, different looking blue and yellow bus stops, and the use of that particular dull NSW government eucalyptus green on steelwork.
What was different was that no one was wearing masks. Social distancing was being enforced, and numbers capped everywhere, but shops were open. No need to wear a mask, but a fair number people were doing so voluntarily.
Our dentist is in a multistorey medical centre, and the cafe at street level was open, and amazingly, you could sit down at a table if you wanted.
There were foot operated hand sanitiser dispensers everywhere and there were clear limits on how many people could be in a lift or in the dentists, or the pharmacy, at any one time, but otherwise things looked, and felt, more like normality.
We said we were going to the medical centre and that’s exactly what we did, no more, no less. Driving back through Albury we had to go round three sides of a city block to get back to the border. Things looked quieter than normal, with fewer people around, but most shops looked to be open.
Possibly, if you’d come from somewhere with less strict regulations, it would have looked locked down, but to us it looked more relaxed and perhaps a vision of a Covid-normal future
Since I wrote this last week, things have changed quite dramatically. On Thursday we came out of our level 3 lockdown, meaning that you can now go and have a coffee, a drink, even eat out, under restricted circumstances, and more importantly we can travel more or less where we want, when we want.
Masks are still mandatory, but that seems a small price to pay.
Walks on Mount Buffalo, or in the High Country are now back on, as is taking the bikes out for a ride (It has, of course, decided to pour with rain today).
At the same time, New South Wales, has announced that blue zone (ie border zone) residents can travel into New South Wales for any reason - although we still need permits to confirm our eligiblity and have to line up to get across the border.
It's difficult to explain how important this is - Albury, small though it is, is our nearest city, and has a range of shops and facilities that you simply don't get on 'our' side of the border - everything from a replacement laptop battery to designer marmalade - essentially we're getting back to something rather like normality ...