The year is 2019. People are working alongside their colleagues in offices. Others have ‘checked-in’ their luggage and are boarding flights for a holiday in Europe. Masks are things surgeons wear while stooped over an open abdominal cavity in the operating theatre – nobody thinks about wearing them out in the open.
The flu jab is there if you want it. If you don’t, your choice, your loss. It’s not like you can’t go to the pub, visit your family, or keep your job if you don’t want it. What’s that? The government telling me to make sure I wash my hands? Go fill a pothole or something.
However, by the end of 2019, a total of 4124 people had tragically died of influenza and pneumonia.
Today, we would have to agree that we were all incredibly selfish in 2019. We come to this conclusion because since then, 4593 Australians have died with COVID-19.
It might be easy to heap ridicule on the protestors from the ‘Freedom Convoy to Canberra’. Many can’t seem to agree on what they want or why they were here. A few believe the Federal Government has an ABN listed on the New York stock exchange. Others think our politicians have committed treason. A minority are even self-confessed neo-Nazis. And yes, some others just need a good shower.
I would also mention that the Federal Government has little control over what the individual states and territories choose to mandate under their respective emergency powers, so rallying on the doorstep of Parliament House is pointless. But what delivers a more powerful message – pockets of protestors scattered around the country or 10,000 in one place? Not looking so pointless now.
Maybe if we Canberrans pressed pause on the sneering and took a few moments to listen to the horde of fellow Australians that has filled our streets over the past two weeks, we might find we actually agree with some of what they are saying.
Dig through the mixed messages, and a loud and clear theme emerges: “We just want to live our life.” That sounds very much like something a normal person would say.
Saturday was one of the largest protests Canberra has ever seen, and you can tell because nobody was quite sure just how many people were actually there. There was nothing to compare it to. The official estimate from ACT Policing sits at 10,000. Of these, on Saturday, three were arrested, one for repeatedly ramming his truck into a barricade and another two for breaching the peace. Others have since been arrested for trespass and resisting a Territory official related to camping offences.
Compare that ratio to arrests at the average Extinction Rebellion protest. Eight were arrested in one protest in August 2021 and Parliament House and The Lodge were defaced.
Not all Convoy to Canberra protestors are crazy extremists or we would have seen more violence. As it is, ACT Policing, Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) management, National Capital Authority (NCA) management, even the CEO of Lifeline Canberra have all commented on how well-behaved most of these people have been. Probably because they are ordinary people who just want their lives back, just like the rest of us.
They are nurses, teachers, paramedics, police officers, lifeguards, military personnel and hundreds of other professionals who have all been in their respective roles for decades before 2020 came along and the rest of us suddenly decided they had to go. All of these roles require a fair amount of education.
Of course, the past two years have been a twisted mess for everyone. Governments across the world, including in Australia, have handled the whole COVID-19 situation differently from each other, each one espousing their way as ‘the way’. Some of them ended better than others. Some claimed more lives than others. But at the end of the day, we’ve all come to the same point: dealing with Omicron.
We were told there were good reasons why we had to endure the lockdowns, the border closures, the pesky face masks, the never-ending State of Emergency, the Check In CBR app, and the injections of a chemical that has only been on the market for a year, again and again, and probably again. After all, we were told that each and every decision was founded in science. Who were we to argue?
But one by one, these reasons have been falling apart. The COVID-19 case fatality rate is now down around 0.19 per cent, and chances are, the virus will only weaken further. Lockdowns slow but do not stop the spread. Border closures do not stop the spread. Kids are not more vulnerable. The ACT Government literally does not know what to do with Check In CBR.
What happened to just living a normal life? We all want that back. And at least 10,000 people brought that message to Canberra.