opinion

'Those beach scenes weren't a one-off. I’ve seen too many Victorians dropping the ball.'

I, along with many Australians, watched Friday’s news report as crowds of Melbourne beachgoers gathered at St Kilda Beach, ignoring the mandatory state-wide social distancing and mask wearing regulations.

As accounts of similar scenes at other Melbourne beaches were described by a Channel Seven reporter, I watched on as one man from the crowd approached him on air without a mask and kissed him on the cheek, then I turned my television off.

I did this not because I was angry like Premier Andrews watching these scenes, or like Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who described their behaviour as "stupid, insulting and risky."

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I wasn’t even frustrated at their reaction about 'keeping Melburnians stuck at home' until next year - a response which was labelled knee jerk by some, including comedian Dave Hughes. 

Instead, I just felt despondent. As if the views I had been internalising, hoping to be wrong, had instead been proven correct.

Because the truth is, these beach scenes weren’t isolated at all. Many, many Victorians are becoming complacent. I have seen it firsthand. 

As a regional Victorian, I have watched for weeks as many around me have seemingly taken the recent loosening of restrictions as a sign that we don’t have to worry anymore.

They have heard words of praise from the Premier and our Health Department of doing a “great job” and seemingly interpreted this to mean we no longer have to.

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That due to their best efforts for these past months, and because the restrictions have loosened, it means it is okay to just forget them all.

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On several occasions when I have left the house for my daily walk, I have passed others who weren't wearing a mask.

When I walked by one or two non-mask wearing strollers, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was for genuine reasons like a health issue related to breathing. But after the fifth in the space of a 40-minute walk, genuine reasons seemed less likely and complacency seemed more of an accurate assumption. 

I saw it as I met a friend at a local café, the first time I have been able to sit down at one for months and enjoy a coffee with anyone.

As we relaxed in the courtyard, slipping our masks down below our chins to sip on coffees, the area that had a sign stating there was a capacity of 10 permitted in the area, was soon filled with at least 12 others, plus my friend and I, all taking their masks off to eat food and drink their drinks. While there was some space, there wasn’t a lot, and leaving it involved literally squeezing through a small gap between the group to exit.

Then, as I went on a much-needed short break away to another Victorian city over the school holidays, I saw it there too.

During my time staying at a holiday park, despite the regular police checks of the ground, the rules of social distancing and mask wearing were ignored daily.

Around the park adults would walk in groups, not social distancing and with no face masks in sight.

Pool-side, as I watched my kids swim, my mask on my face, many other adults supervising their children (or just relaxing on a banana lounges in the sun) did so without masks. As families recognised their holiday park friends, they would come over and sit next to them, chatting without face protection.

Slowly the area that had a capacity of 20 would fill up until I could count at least 20 in the pool itself, let alone those who sat around it watching on. 

I could add to the list with several other experiences from recent weeks, from shopping at my local grocery store to having my hair cut at the salon. But it seems irrelevant to note the location or what rules apply. 

While I would love to join in with Dave Hughes and say that what was shown on that report was isolated, the truth is it wasn't at all. There are more and more people pushing the limits of social distancing and mask wearing, rules there for our own health and safety. 

The sad reality is that after months and months of restrictions, just as they are being lifted and finally we are able to see a faint light at the end of what has been a very dark and gloomy tunnel, instead of sticking with it and doing what we need to do to get the job done, many Victorians are becoming complacent. 

They just aren’t all captured by a news crew.

Feature Image: Getty.


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