Trying to explain to overseas friends the state of play in Australia’s COVID-19 response is no easy feat.
The distinction between our state and territory governments and federal responsibilities, combined with the sheer size of our country, is difficult to comprehend for some, especially those who live in more integrated countries with less divergent systems between regions.
In conversation with a friend recently, I found myself trying to explain how my experience of the pandemic has differed so extremely from friends in Victoria or NSW.
“Well, we have a much smaller population and fewer international arrivals,” I said. “But also, I just feel like Canberrans are compliant with health directions, and we all want to help everyone stay safe and businesses to stay open.”
There was a definite note of pride in my message. More and more, the pandemic is making me feel proud of being a Canberran, and I feel like this is reinforced by the general tone of the national conversation around vaccination rates and lockdowns.
As Victoria and NSW argue about who has managed lockdowns more effectively and border closures become the source of state and territory arguments, our Australian identities are defined more by our allegiances locally than a sense of national unity.
It makes sense. The pandemic is being managed closely on a local level, and perhaps the only point of national consistency is the frustration with the federal rollout of vaccines.
But on a Canberra level, I’ve certainly noticed a stronger sense of communal values as we’ve weathered the threat of the delta variant reaching the capital.
People are so grateful for our relatively unscathed status through the pandemic and fiercely committed to maintaining it. There’s a sense of everyone needing to pull together to protect us from a lockdown, and if that means staying closed to friends and family in other states, so be it.
I’ve noticed a strong sense of cooperation with businesses and venues regarding COVID-19 measures and people who don’t usually engage politically on public forums posting about getting vaccinated and the importance of doing so for Canberra’s safety from a return of the virus.
Is it just the circles I run in, or has the pandemic revealed a genuine and strong sense of Canberra identity? Is our success in the face of COVID down to a shared sense of values, especially when it comes to civic duty?
If so, I feel like this is a clear positive result of an otherwise difficult and stressful time. The key will be to maintain it as we move into the ongoing COVID-normal of the future.