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Thus Spake Mungo: COVID-19 getting personal

Suddenly it’s personal. I have been placed in home isolation.

I have no visible symptoms of COVID-19, I have not been overseas for years and as far as I know I have had no close contact with anyone who has. I maintain reasonable hygiene and keep my coughing to myself. I have not been tested for the disease and my doctors tell me there is no immediate need to do so.

But they also say I am among the most vulnerable to infection, and serious infection at that. I am 78, with a compromised immune system and chronic issues over heart and lungs. So I am off to detention.

It will not be complete solitary confinement. I will – indeed, must – attend regular medical appointments and my wife will be allowed to drive me to secluded venues in the open air to indulge in the occasional take-away coffee. And there are always the dogs and the garden, both a great solace.

But the emotional effect is still daunting. I don’t go out socialising much these days, but when I do, the time is precious. And the ban on visitors – friends, and particularly relatives – is a major blow. I can, and I hope will, continue to write,  and of course communicate through the internet.

But it will not be the same as face-to-face meetings, and the enforced isolation will go on for weeks – probably months. This regime will apply increasingly to many Australians – potentially a large chunk of the population. And this raises concerns that go beyond those of health, and even the corona-stricken economy.

People are social animals. We tend to herd into groups, into communities

People are social animals. We tend to herd into groups, into communities. At times this can become dangerous and destructive, when tribalism and ultra-nationalism take hold, but in general the instinct is beneficial – it encourages and enhances the general well-being and co-operation needed to keep society going, the idea of a common wealth.

In recent times this has been eroded by identity politics, and more worryingly by the cult of the individual – the neo-liberalism that contends, in the words of one of its strongest advocates, Margaret Thatcher, ‘there is no such thing as society.’ In other words, the credo is ‘greed is good, grab what you can and hold on to it.’

This tendency has already become apparent in Australia, as in the rest of the world; technology has made it easy to disengage from the populace via electronic communication. It is easier to Skype than set up a meeting; it is easier to text than either.

Those who enjoy such encounters regard them as person to person contact, but they are not; at best two of the five senses are involved, and no genuine intimacy is possible. People become disengaged.

The Americans, as is their wont, are stockpiling yet more guns

It is tempting to see this as the context which has led to panic buying, hoarding, black marketeering, brawling in supermarkets over toilet rolls – at least we are only after toilet rolls. The Americans, as is their wont, are stockpiling yet more guns.

This is not seen as selfish and uncaring, but as legitimate protection of the individual against the needs of the community. Stuff you Jack, I’m all right.

And now a significant number of Australians are to be effectively locked away in their homes, instructed to have as little to do with their fellow men, women and children and possible, at times on pain of imprisonment. It is a formula not so much for a divided society as for a fragmented one, a nation of antisocial hermits and alienation.

And if – when – it drags on, a lot of people may learn to enjoy it – after all, the internet has given them a substantial start. Working at home, online education, watching entertainment on television instead of going out, even virtual church services were becoming a trend before coronavirus appeared.

Now anxiety about personal health will add to the misanthropy, and the fear of an impending economic recession, or worse, may easily induce widespread paranoia, whatever reassurances Scott Morrison and his Team Australia bring to their daily telecasts. Isolation could become not only an easy option but the preferred one.

And when we finally emerge, blinking, into the sunlight, it will be to a very different Australia

And when we finally emerge, blinking, into the sunlight, it will be to a very different Australia. This does not mean that everyone will revert to primitive tribalism; as the bushfire emergency showed, for many, perhaps most Australians, the immediate impulse is to help those in need. We are rightly proud of our reputation as a generous people, and however visceral our current fears may be, with any luck we will revert when the crisis is over.

But one of the biggest problems is knowing when that will be. In the beginning, Morrison was insisting that it would be temporary, that things would quickly bounce back to normal. Now, more realistically, he is talking about at least six months – and that is only the peak period, the time of isolation, shutdowns and prohibitions.

With recession now seen as inevitable, and possibly worse still in the pipeline, there will be a protracted hangover in which a battered public will go through more hardship, and the kind of resentment that accompanies it. It will be hard enough for Morrison, or anyone else, to persuade people to rejoin the optimistic throng he envisages as Team Australia, and doubly difficult if we have become used to staying away from each other in enforced isolation.

We will need serious rehabilitation and therapy – much handshaking, hugging and embracing

We will need serious rehabilitation and therapy – much handshaking, hugging and embracing. We will need not only renewed confidence in the future, especially in the economy, lifeless before COVID-19 and smashed to the floor during it, but reconnection – a social recovery, arguably more important than the kind you can stash away in the bank.

I suspect that Morrison probably knows this – it is why he is putting so much effort on urging us to stick together, to see it through as we have during past disasters, pandemics, wars and depressions. But diagnosing the problem is one thing, treating it another. It will be this, not simply weathering the immediate storm, which will be the real test of ScoMo’s leadership.


28 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: COVID-19 getting personal”

  1. Barrow says:

    Well balanced Article Mungo !

  2. Tito Tambourine says:

    Thank goodness that Morrison is in charge and not little willie. We need a strong decisive leader not an incompetent social climber.

  3. John May says:

    …to say I’m disappointed in Morrison’s “leadership” in this crisis would be understatement of the greatest magnitude….

    …there’s no way this lily can be gilded….

    A total embargo on incoming flights, coupled with strict quarantine of those allowed in by virtue of citizenship or residency, back in January, and Australia would have been the envy of the world, and more importantly, been able to dictate our own terms for dealing with this crisis…..

    Now we are awash in it, pummeled by it, reacting on a day by basis, each day just two days too late…..

    Pitiably mishandled, I’m afraid

  4. Sel Pilgrim says:

    Mungo,
    Were you born on October the eleventh? You could be my twin, right down to the compromised health. There appears to be very little that we disagree with, I’d go so far as to say that we speak with one mind.

    Go well mate, we might meet on the other side of this mess, certainly not in heaven, wouldn’t want to be with most of those who think that they are destined for there.

    I brotherly love Sel

  5. Kim Latham says:

    Stay well Mungo, we would like to keep hearing from you, a while longer yet.

  6. Christopher Chandler says:

    Cheers for that that, all the best with your health, from lockdown in Barcelona

  7. BornxRaised says:

    Yeah holding back stimulus for a budget surplus and not having the balls to make decisions early enough is great leadership. Not to mention the cuts the LNP has made to Centrelink over the last few years, it’s not as if that would be helping anyone today.

  8. Phil says:

    Another test for ScoMo??…..Who really thinks he’s going to pass it with so many abject failures and the continual revelations of rorting and corruption??….The man is anything but a leader – gutless, gormless and inappropriate at every turn, he is decisively one thing – incompetent. How’s Mallacoota going or have we forgotten those still suffering from his inability to address bushfires and climate change appropriately? How much money did the son of a convicted pedophile, Brian Houston make with his Hillsong gathering on Sunday??…While all the restrictions needed a couple of days” to “make it happen”….. It’s truly amazing what power ScoMo DOESN’T wield when the situation isn’t for his benefit. Enough already, Australia!! Stand this government down!!!

  9. Jacqueline Garland says:

    Right on Mungo! Your columns are always spot on. Deep gratitude. Keep well, keep writing and please, please, keep breathing…!
    We are indeed fortunate to live in this Northern Rivers community which is already longtime and well experienced in sharing, caring and community building. We will care for each other in every possible way.
    As for Scumo, younger generations tend to find him an inauthentic blathering fake politician, and are completely turned off. They don’t watch TV and have their own tribal forms of communication.
    I cannot bear his politicisation of it all, his refusal to have a non partisan task force..ie including Anthony Albanese, Jim Chalmers, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen etc, intelligent, honest, calm and measured MPs (and why not Greens leader, Adam Bandt too?) No one I know can even bear to listen to #Scottiefrommarketing. He is doing his best to ‘act’ like a ‘leader’, but it seems to me to be an act, and for me and so many I know, not to be trusted. I was listening to Anthony Albanese in a near deserted Parliament this morning, and was very impressed…he is emerging as an impressive and honest leader of the Labor Party. The largest Party. 136 years old. Libs and Nats only govern because they are a coalition, and can prop each other up. I cannot trust a PM who got there by sleight of hand,smoke and mirrors, who belongs to a cult church which protects paedophiles, and covers up the suicides of young gay people in the church. And they believe in the “end times” nonsense, that Jesus wants them to be rich, and that they’ll all be ‘saved’, while us miserable sinners go to hell. Sorry, can’t take him seriously. I get all my CV19 information from ABC, Dr Norman Swan, and other specific sites, never from ‘mygov’. Long experience has shown me that they are snake oil salesmen, who speak with forked tongue.

  10. Bill Williams says:

    So Tito, when, can we expect these wise decisions to appear. Every time I hear Morrison utter words; he tends to be ignoring the answer to a relevant question; or, shouting down the interviewer, in order to use up the time available and avoid speaking practical truth. Hopefully, we will hear decisions made ,without any confusing messages; but, I doubt it!

  11. My father… a newborn, lost his mother to the
    Spanish Flu in the US of A. As a kid, many
    years later, in Australia, I recall asking a
    lot of questions. I thought, over time, that it
    could not happen again. It did, in other forms
    … Ebola, 2014. Times do indeed test us &
    Mungo has told it as it is. Friends are our life
    blood & a necessity that must not ever be
    ignored or taken for granted.

  12. Moro says:

    Oh Mungo, I wish you were our Prime Minister. Watching him talk at everyone and show little sign of listening is very worrying.

  13. Andrew Kaye says:

    As meaningless as comments get. Good to see that the very tribalism that Mungo warns against is alive and kicking.

  14. Tito, what a dislocated opinion. The man’s
    manic… won’t listen to any common sense
    & is a liability we can all live without.

  15. citizen says:

    Humankind and other species will face more calamities than this and on a greater scale unless zero population growth becomes the norm. We are vulnerable with our centralised services and supply of goods. Also if we don’t stop wasting resources and polluting, human society will die out except in remote self sufficient places.

    The isolation is pretty low key compared to what many suffered in wars and fascist societies, having to hide from the enemy who could be a neighbour, and with little food or medical care. Not just the Nazis and Stalin and Shah of Iran. Right now in Syria and Burma, people are in dire straits physically and mentally.

    Perhaps we should realise how lucky we r here in Aus, even if sadly we are aged or impaired, or now unemployed.

  16. Des says:

    Morrison is living proof of the Peter Principle. He has risen far too quickly to the level of his incompetence and has now greatly exceeded it. He has no idea how to lead or inspire, or do anything other than spin his marketing nonsense and snap at journalists. He is as big a disaster as the virus.

  17. Anne says:

    Alas ScoMo is far too SlowMo for Mwa

  18. Bruce McQueen says:

    “This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper…”
    All the best with it Mungo. On the bright side, you’ll have lots of uninterrupted time for psephologising and philosophating.

  19. Joachim says:

    Tito, you taking the piss? Come down from your mountain and get real. Your man Morrison has not been up to the task of, Leading. Climate, Bushfires and now COVID-19, ScoNO always too little and too late as he closed the gate after the virus has bolted. And today the initial lying from the government that Centrelink system crashed because the ‘bogeyman’ was attacking the system. Always the same from Morrison & co, when you want the truth and information you don’t get it from this mob.

  20. Gordon Lasslett says:

    Gosh Mungo 78! And you do not look a day older than back in the 1970s when as a Teller at the Bank of NSW King & George Sts I used to cash your cheques. Same beard. Same real person. Gordon retired 3rd Teller BNSW

  21. All power to you comrade… stay strong and healthy.

  22. Graham Barnes says:

    Well thought and written, Mungo. Stay well, stay warm, stay safe – this country needs you and more of your ilk to show us things as they really are. Fight on!

  23. citizen says:

    The article wld b better if it queried whether enough people will learn enough lessons from this experience to save life on our planet.

    Societies can be changed massively by tiny things. Not just AIDS, ebola, SARS, MERS, COVID19 and other microbes, but slight perturbations of the environment. We won’t be able to quarantine the mosquitoes carrying dengue fever and other nasties further from the equator as global warming increases.

    The optimism that science will solve all problems needs to face some harsh realities. We have plastics and nasty chemicals spread everywhere in the food chain. As populations increase, the destruction of forests, and methane from farmed animals are destroying our habitat. While I write, rusts and pathogens are spreading among crops, We might survive a world without grains, bananas, olives etc., but the high pace of change and massiveness of human activity, will not allow easy reversal of many disasters.

    Drought, fires and disease, perhaps we should change our ways now before other biblical scale plagues like starvation descend upon us. I am not a philosopher or theist, just a rational person.

  24. Glen Ward says:

    hey Tito: “Thank goodness that Morrison is in charge and not little willie” …. Morrison just handed over Australia’s virus strategy to a bunch of unelected corporate CEOs and then closed down parliament for 5 months. All politicians have gone home and we are left with a pack of unelected corporates running the show ….. can you smell that Tito?- yep, it’s your vote being burned

  25. robot says:

    At least no real petty slurs. You use Morrison’s actual name for a change, one use of ScoMo, and a pull on the heartstrings and fair enough, fair comment when social distancing law emerges, you see it Mangosteen.
    At the end of this crisis, if, will the law be repealed? After all, how much law is ever repealed. And all the major parties do it, create law and then leave it intact when the original impulse has passed. Has anyone thought to repeal the Human Rights Commission Act, our de facto Bill of Rights that noone was asked to vote on, or any of its State counterparts? Do the Greens ever reconsider changing the stranglehold on landowners’ rights that criminalise the chopping down of one tree?
    At least Abbott had the gumption to repeal the carbon tax, in line with what he believed and at odds with a massive media conflux of opposition. Some use the Big Brother simile; Brave New World is closer as we come closer to the notion of a regulated population growth. The idea is gaining momentum. Would something like Soma replace the libido? And children shopping? Let’s face it, it’s there already in embryo.

  26. Didn’t so many get by far ‘too big for their boots?’
    The slack running of the country is now paying
    for the sniffing of Coal-oil-gas… & parliamentary
    buddies by the score. The land & for-real people
    carry this load. Never fall for loose salesmanship
    again.

  27. Geronimo says:

    As always Mungo, thanks for your well thought through thoughts and insights and the best of health to you and yours.

  28. Barrow says:

    Stefanie need for the Reminder
    We are all in this together
    Trying times , all the you do is whinge!
    About the present Government
    Can they do anything right Stefanie?
    Love to see you run the country
    It would be Venezuela mark 2
    Cant believe it !!!

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