Australia has had virtually none of Ireland’s sense of community in lockdown

I could never imagine Ireland treating its citizens the way the government here has been doing

Australian lockdown: the vaccine rollout has been slow, and the government only purchased enough inoculations for 4 per cent of the population. Photograph: Dan Himbrechets/EPA

Australian lockdown: the vaccine rollout has been slow, and the government only purchased enough inoculations for 4 per cent of the population. Photograph: Dan Himbrechets/EPA

 

Mary-Ann O’Donovan, an academic from Dublin, left Ireland in September 2020 to become associate professor of disability studies and executive director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Sydney. The rules in Australia are set to change, but not until November, and the changes are yet to be determined

Lockdown in Dublin in March 2020 was tough, but I have found lockdown in Sydney much tougher. With the onset of the first recorded cases of Covid in Ireland we were gifted a new vocabulary which we all became fluent in as we watched daily news updates, unpicked emerging research evidence and adapted to changing recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

We were learning together and we were adapting together. We were keeping each other informed, buoyant and focused on solutions to this worldwide pandemic. It was a community effort.

Walks along Sandymount Strand, Zoom parties, swims at the Half Moon on the Great South Wall in Dublin and a new-found love of bingo with the neighbours helped me to stay connected to people, to place and to the world that was available in my radius. The sense of belonging I felt was immense.

Perhaps I was naive to think that getting home would be so easy. Despite being on the brink of a second wave of the virus, I still did not believe that come the next year I wouldn’t get home

Leaving Ireland was in no way easy. In fact, the initial decision to leave had been made prepandemic, and even then I was torn. Did I really want to live on the other side of the world? Did I really feel I could leave my family and friends behind?

The job opportunity that presented itself seemed too good to pass up, and my decision to go, supported by family and friends, rested on a number of factors. First, I didn’t want to regret not trying. Second, I would fly home at least once if not twice a year. (My employer had committed to cover the cost of one of these flights.) Third, I could be home in 24 hours should any family emergency or other cause arise. Last, if I didn’t like Sydney I could just come home. Knowing that I could just come home was a real comfort to me.

Abroad during Covid

Perhaps I was naive to think that getting home would be so easy. Despite being on the brink of a second wave of the virus, I still did not believe that come the next year I wouldn’t get home. If I had known this, would I have still got on that plane? It is hard to say. I really don’t know.

So there I was in August 2021, almost one year into my new life with a new job in a new city. Sydney is a great city with so much to offer and a great quality of life, and I’m loving my job. In another lockdown on another side of the world, I have found the experience so fundamentally different from my last year at home in Ireland. I am here by myself, although I have made some really good friends since arriving.

I also felt a frustration and anger that Australia has been so behind the curve this far into a worldwide pandemic. Did they learn any lessons from the rest of the world? Was Australia as a nation willing to lean on and learn from other nations or does the mantra of “our borders will protect us” mean that there is no need to look beyond them? The insularity here felt so alien to me.

People with disabilities and other groups deemed to be the most vulnerable and most in need of the vaccine have not been prioritised as promised. Many still do not have an indication of when they will receive the vaccine

There was little evidence of connection and support as a nation here. In Ireland there was a real sense of community. Here in Australia it does not feel that we are in this together. In fact Australia feels very separate from the rest of the world, as does its neighbour New Zealand, and there is a real sense of separation within the country.

There is massive inequity with the vaccine rollout, which has been slow here. The government only purchased enough for 4 per cent of the population. The chronically negative media and federal-government attitude towards vaccines has led to AstraZeneca being positioned as the lesser vaccine compared with Pfizer. People refusing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine stalled the vaccine rollout further.

People with disabilities and other groups deemed to be the most vulnerable and most in need of the vaccine have not been prioritised as promised. Many still do not have an indication of when they will receive the vaccine, and there are Covid outbreaks in disability care homes. States are refusing to help other states and will not share vaccine supply. With politics driving this race of survival of the fittest, it has been managed through the yo-yo state border closures rather than a focus on what is right for society and its people as a whole. Australians wishing to come home are stranded abroad with no indication of when they may return.

Furthermore, Australian citizens in India have been told they cannot return due to India being a Covid hotspot. Should they try to enter the country they will be imprisoned. I could never imagine Ireland treating its citizens this way.

Mary-Ann O’Donovan is executive director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Sydney
Mary-Ann O’Donovan is executive director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Sydney

The country halved all international flights (yet somehow celebrities and sports people seemed to travel in and out of the country with no problem). As a migrant here on a visa, I have to seek a permit to leave the country and make a case for exceptional circumstances that require me to leave. It could take months to get a permit and there were various pieces of evidence required to build a case for leaving .

If I decide today that I want to leave and never return, I can book my flight and go. However, I wish to return, so I must hang on. There are many migrants in Australia now facing the dilemma of “should I stay or should I go?” They are facing difficult decisions of if I go am I all right with leaving my life in Australia if I leave now. Many of us are asking do I want to make a life in a country with border policies that may mean I may only see my family and friends every few years if I’m lucky. Is this a viable reality?

I’m proud of how family and friends have coped in the past 18 months and even prouder to see Ireland come through this pandemic as it has. I look forward to returning home. I don’t know when this will be, but I know in my heart of hearts that I will be home somehow.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.