opinion

In this time of self-isolation, it's more important than ever to come together as a community.

Amid the wall-to-wall coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has ramped up in Australia in the past week — you would have seen arresting images from around the world: deserted cities, exhausted medical teams, queues a mile long of desperate people at airports and those waiting to be tested.

But not all of these images have been of people suffering, or fighting over loo roll in the supermarket. Something else has emerged.

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People singing and playing musical instruments on balconies, people leaving notes around their local area to see how they can help their neighbours, supermarkets responding to calls to designate special times for older and less mobile people to get their essentials.

After disaster strikes in Australia, we often marvel at the strength of our communities and our ability to come together in times of hardship. In truth, this isn’t an exclusively Australian trait – it’s what unites us as humans, regardless of location or ethnicity.

If nothing else, COVID-19 has reminded us that we are all very, very human. And we are all equally as vulnerable. We can affect each other, negatively and positively.

I wonder, for those of us who find ourselves working from home, or in a more formal self-isolation, could this be an opportunity to radically rethink our approach to what differentiates us and instead turn our attention to what unites us?

What if, through this scary and uncertain time, something more positive can emerge? This might be the time that we decide once and for all to close down demonisation and anger and decisively replace it with empathy and kindness.

Amnesty International is all about protecting human rights. From this pandemic, some human rights themes have become apparent to me where we can reflect on how we can be kinder and more considerate.

Access to healthcare

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill to enable everyone in the country, regardless of their insurance status, to access COVID-19 testing. It’s astonishing to contemplate that prior to this legislative change, the test cost north of $2500 AUD.

All the countries which are held up as examples of being able to “flatten the curve” of the virus spread and severity have had early testing at the core of their response.

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We also need to take very seriously the health of Indigenous people in Australia during this pandemic. Despite suffering from much worse health than other Australians, Indigenous people generally have much less access to health care services.

Look out for each other

We’ve seen the social media accounts of people letterboxing their neighbours, or popping over to share essentials with people who can’t easily get to the shops, and while these little acts of kindness can seem trivial, as a whole, it could make a massive difference to a person’s wellbeing.

Mental health affects all demographics in Australia, and is something we all need to be mindful of in these challenging times. The elderly, already vulnerable in terms of their health and financial wellbeing, often also suffer from acute loneliness which could lead to depression.

Any act of kindness by a neighbour or passing stranger will make a huge difference.

Ensure information is accurate and use social media responsibly

An anecdote on social media about a home remedy for the prevention of COVID-19 doesn’t constitute reliable information. We must demand our government provides us with timely and accurate information informed by medical experts and use reliable sources for our information – not random people tweeting something unsubstantiated.

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Don’t be racist

It seems obvious, but don’t be racist. This virus doesn’t discriminate, and nor should you. We’re all in this together.

Everyone should get sick pay

The gains made by the union movement in relation to protecting our rights at work including sick pay had a profoundly positive effect on both the economy and the wellbeing of workers. Unfortunately, with the casualisation of the workforce and the rise of the gig economy, these benefits remain elusive for some of the workers most affected by a world in lockdown.

At the very minimum, everyone who works should be able to get sick pay when they need to take time away from work to prioritise their health. This serves not only the individual; all of us benefit from people who are unwell not spreading viruses like COVID-19.

People may need to be physically distant at the moment, but we are united. Together, we will get through this. Together, we will beat this.

If we lose our heads, fight in the shops, be cruel to the most vulnerable, and demonise certain groups, we all lose. What the spread of this virus should teach us is that globally we are all connected.

We all want the same thing: an end to this fear and disruption. Let’s focus on what we have in common, what we can do to support each other, and what this moment teaches us about the spirit of humanity.

Samantha Klintworth is the CEO of Amnesty International Australia.

Feature image: Getty.

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