Monday this week marked one year since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Australia.
Over the past 12 months, much has changed in Australia and around the world. Like no other wide-reaching disaster in recent memory, the pandemic has brought many underlying societal issues to the fore, including systemic racism, wealth inequalities, and worrying trends in political leadership around the world.
Within days of the anniversary of COVID-19 arriving in Australia, it was announced that we had surpassed 100 million cases of the virus globally. The practical effect of strong, political and social leadership, which represents the needs and values of the population, is clear.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s apology for his government’s handling of the pandemic illustrates the boiling point many nations have reached, and the impact political discourse can have on public actions.
Despite several hiccups, Australia has done an incredible job in coming together to reduce the impact of the pandemic on our population. By respecting lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing, our country has emerged from 2020 with relatively small numbers of COVID-19 community transmissions and deaths.
Our collective cooperation and solidarity have not just been a win for the hard-working medical teams, or government policy, but for all Australians who have put others first over the past 12 months.
For many people living in Western societies, the COVID-19 pandemic was the first time they had experienced an all-encompassing, existential threat to their individual and collective physical, economic, and societal health.
I know for myself, and the people around me, this sense of losing a degree of control over our freedom of movement and general lives because of necessary precautions has taken a toll. Life did not stop, and these stressors were simply layered over our pre-existing responsibilities and challenges.
In times of crisis, where our physical, economic, and mental health is at risk, it is all too easy to blame the other. Many attempt to self-soothe by simplifying and shifting responsibility for the situation we face.
Instead of using division and blame, we can regain a sense of control over our lives by playing a role, no matter how small or large, in the direction of our community and democracy. Connection and individual accountability are important if we want to emerge from the past year a better society than we began.
A cornerstone of SSI’s advocacy since early 2020 has been to look at COVID-19 as a reset button for our society. Not only has the pandemic highlighted hidden and visible inequalities, it has also provided us with the opportunity to change the structures that create them and build back better in our recovery.
As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine begins next month, this will be front of mind. Throughout the pandemic, vulnerable communities have at times been overlooked. In the coming months, we will continue to advocate for these communities, to receive fair access to the vaccine.
Actively contributing to the world around us is a fantastic way to break down social barriers, reduce isolation and gain a sense of fulfilment. It is impossible, and in many ways unhealthy, to put pressure on ourselves to be champions for all injustices, but we can take small steps to be the change we want to see in the world.
There are many things you can do to be an active member of your community and our democracy. These include getting to know and spending time with your neighbours, educating yourself on the issues faced in your local government area, attending a town hall meeting, making use of and respecting public spaces, challenging your perspectives through open discussions with people with different views, and leading by example by taking steps to nourish your mental and physical health.
By being active rather than passive members of society and being aware of the motives, struggles and goals of others, we can regain a sense of control and understanding of the world around us.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that as a community we can do this. As a collective we have had to work to protect our most vulnerable during the pandemic and push back against divisive, hateful attitudes. Our challenges may not be over, particularly as we explore vaccine distribution, but I am confident that there are positive developments ahead if we all do our part in steering us in the right direction.