opinion

"It felt like betrayal." This weekend broke even the strongest in lockdown.

For four long weeks I have only left my house for groceries, walks and one visit to the doctor.

For four long weeks I have followed the rules, as has everyone at my workplace and in my orbit. 

For four long weeks I have covered the current COVID-19 crisis in Australia for Mamamia from my Sydney apartment; digesting the numbers, the fear, the desperation and the confusion in the hope of keeping our readers up to date. To help them feel seen. To make sure they feel supported.  

As a news journalist, it's part of my job to compartmentalise my work from my reality. To do my best to switch off at the end of the day from the stream of COVID updates I've spent hours pouring over so I am ready to tackle them again in the morning. I am sent angry emails and direct messages, often, for writing about vaccinations and lockdowns from people who tell me I am a 'sheep' or I am being 'paid by the government' or I am 'a useless, uninformed journalist.' 

I was able to brush it off. 

I was staying afloat. 

I was following the rules.

But this weekend broke me. 

I felt an unbridled anger and an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia as the bricks I have built around me to protect my mental health and sanity came tumbling down.

It was seeing thousands of people, Australians, marching the streets in Sydney and Melbourne a day after a national emergency was declared. It was hearing about the death of a woman just eight years older than me who said her goodbyes through a screen from a Sydney hospital bed. It was hearing that the numbers were higher than ever, 163 on Saturday and 141 on Sunday. 

The culmination of it all broke me. And I know I am not the only one.

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Amongst the videos of the violent altercations between police and protesters, my social media feeds were filled with horror, anger and heartbreak from Sydneysiders and Melbournians who, like me, have been following the rules in the hope that our diligence will mean we reach freedom faster.

On the weekend, it felt like our neighbours, our community, betrayed us. While we sat at home, they marched mask-less in the streets demanding "freedom".

It felt like we had been giving up our freedoms, for nothing. Like all of our hard work and sacrifice had been undone in one super-spreader event. 

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The thing is, I understand why they were marching. Lockdowns feel Draconian, surreal and inhumane when you look at them in 2D. They're affecting Australians' mental health, they're forcing businesses to close and they're ruining our social lives and our sense of hope. They are taking away some of our most basic human rights. I get that - I feel that pain too. 

But with just one step backwards, when you view the rules through 3D they make sense. Complete sense. Without lockdowns right now while the majority of our country is unvaccinated, our hospitals would fill up in a matter of weeks. We have real life case studies to show us what that could look like: the UK, America, Italy, India. 


But I don't need to tell the rule-followers that. That's why this weekend broke us. 

We've been wearing our masks, distancing from our loved ones and holding our breath ahead of every new press conference. For those of us in Sydney, we already know this week will deliver us a lockdown extension. But it felt easier and that tiny bit lighter when it felt like we were all in this together. Doing this for eachother.

But it turns out we were in one echo-chamber, and the Australians who attended the weekend protests were in another. On Saturday their echo-chamber exploded, while millions more of us watched on feeling helpless and hopeless. 

I am sick of being a country divided by those who support vaccination and those who don't. 

Those who support lockdown, and those who don't. 

Our country is in crisis, but instead of fighting COVID-19, we're fighting eachother. 

Watch: We're also a country divided because of confused political messaging and inaction. Post continues after video.


Video via KIIS.
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But I only have the energy for one fight - and that is why this weekend broke me.

I spent Sunday night building myself back up from a weekend spent spiralling. I made lasagne, I called a friend, I watched the Olympics, and I exhaled as I readied myself for week five of lockdown. I will be continuing to follow the rules, even though I now know thousands of my fellow Aussies aren't.

I will endure the short-term pain to ensure my parents, friends, colleagues and neighbours don't die alone in a hospital bed. 

I know millions of us are in this together, and this week I am choosing to remember that fact. Rather than the images of violence and the misinformed signs being marched down my city's main street. 

I will be following the rules, because I too want freedom. 

I will be following the rules, because until more of us are vaccinated, this is the only way through.

For more from Gemma Bath, keep up to date with her articles here, or follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Getty/Gemma Bath/Mamamia.

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