Brits Living In Australia Are Angry At UK Government As Down Under Goes ‘Back To Normal’ Life
As the UK prepares to entire the fourth week of the third national lockdown, residents down under have been enjoying the run up to Australia Day with much more relaxed restrictions.
The public holiday, celebrated today, January 26, marks the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney in 1788.
It’s a time for residents to reflect on the history of the country, the stories of those who helped build it and the achievements of the nation and its people, with events typically involving concerts, beach parties, firework displays and parades.
In the UK, it’s hard to imagine crowds, even small ones, could be gathering together in celebration; that establishments and cities are open to visitors and that the day could be marked with some sense of normality, but that’s exactly what’s been going on over the weekend in Australia.
With the UK left looking on enviously from the homes we are encouraged to stay in, UNILAD spoke to a number of Brits living in Australia about the way the pandemic has been handled in each country, and the ways in which Australia Day is being celebrated down under.
Fiona, a 25-year-old marketing coordinator living in Sydney, moved to Australia from England in October 2018. She has spent much of the last two years travelling the country, and has only been subject to one lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began last March.
Melbourne, where Fiona was living at the time, implemented a full lockdown along with the rest of the country at the end of March.
Gemma, a 25-year-old Brit working as a inbound call centre employee in Australia, recalled strict rules on indoor gatherings and social distancing at the time, as well as the closure of international borders and mandatory quarantine for any returning citizens entering the country.
Bars and restaurants were closed, employees were told to work from home, residents were only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons such as buying food, and authorities issued fines for anyone found to be beyond a certain distance from home.
Each state decided which internal borders would be closed, meaning, for example, only Queensland residents could enter Queensland.
Fiona told UNILAD this is still the case for some states, but nearly one year on ‘everything is pretty much normal’. Sophie, a 22-year-old Brit currently residing in Brisbane, had the same view, saying that she is ‘much happier’ and ‘relieved that we are back to normal life’.
Gemma, who is currently living in Queensland, said: ‘Everything is basically back to normal – the only thing you have to do differently is sign in [to different locations] for contact tracing’.
Apart from a three day lockdown last weekend, followed by 10 days of restrictions, we’ve been living fairly normal in Queensland since October! Work places and venues do still have stricter limits than normal, and at work every other desk is occupied [to allow for social distancing].
There are currently different levels of restrictions in place across the country, with residents in most parts of New South Wales and Queensland able to welcome a maximum of 50 visitors to their home at one time, according to The Guardian.
Outdoor public gatherings are limited to 30 people in greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong, but up to 100 people are allowed in a number of other areas, with the limit reaching 1,000 in Tasmania. These allowances have been utilised in the last few days on the run up to Australia Day; a public holiday that gives residents the day off work.
Gemma and her friend Sophie are among the millions of people recognising the day, with both women spending the day celebrating with friends on the beach.
Similarly, Fiona and her partner booked off the surrounding work days in order to enjoy a long weekend in Byron Bay, New South Wales.
The pair attended an event at the Byron Bay Beach Bar, with Fiona adding: ‘There are basically no restrictions in Byron Bay at all, so the long weekend has been like normal life. I can imagine every bar and venue will be doing an event for the day. We all have the day off so everyone’s celebrating somehow.’
Further describing the current look of day-to-day life in Australia, Fiona said:
It’s crazy because life is so normal. In Sydney we can either go to work or work at home; we can go to bars and restaurants, though there is a limited capacity to ensure social distancing, and we have to wear masks on public transport and in shops.
In Byron Bay, there are no restrictions. You don’t have to wear a mask and bars and clubs are packed, though we have to use a Track & Trace app to ensure we can be notified if anyone in the same location has been infected. If so, you’ll get a text and have to isolate.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, events celebrating Australia Day in Sydney include ticketed pool parties, featuring large inflatables, DJs and entertainment, a floating cinema, live music, food trucks and a 10K Wheelchair Race.
With the situation being a world away from that of her loved ones in the UK, Fiona said that the response of the UK government ‘angers [her] so much’.
She commented: ‘They have made such a mess of the country. I just feel so bad for all my family and friends, especially those who have lost close family members due to virus. If they cared more about the people in the country than they do about the economy, then things would be more like they are in Australia, almost back to normality.’
Gemma shared similar thoughts about the UK government’s response to the outbreak, saying officials ‘haven’t handled their response to COVID-19 well at all’.
The 25-year-old continued:
The fact that they were so vague about the rules to begin with has contributed to the UK’s current situation because it spiralled out of control. The whole nation lost faith in the government’s ability to control it, so not everyone is taking the rules seriously and people are doing what they want… I feel like it’s divided the nation a little.
Fiona suggested that many people in Australia may feel ‘a little nervous’ about big group gatherings, though Gemma said the notion of being threatened by the virus when in a large group ‘rarely crosses [her] mind’. Sophie agreed, saying she is now ‘comfortable being around people’.
The country’s ability to work quickly against the virus was commended by Fiona, noting it acts as good reassurance for those who may be apprehensive.
But while the three women are mostly comfortable being around crowds in Australia, the UK’s response to coronavirus has made them all apprehensive about returning.
Sophie expressed her fears about coming home as there is seemingly no concrete end in sight for the restrictions in the UK, while Gemma said that the UK’s repeated and prolonged lockdowns have made her ‘want to avoid going home as much as possible’.
Referring to Australia’s agriculture visa programmes, Gemma added: ‘I think the fact that six months’ farm work sounds more appealing than going home says it all.’
Fiona was originally meant to return to the UK for good at Christmas, but decided to stay in Australia for a number of reasons.
We decided to stay because, one, I was too scared of catching [coronavirus] on the plane and passing it onto my family who I would have had to live with if I returned. They have done so well to isolate so I wouldn’t want to risk them getting it and passing it on.
Two, we were worried about our mental health from not being prepared for the lockdown conditions. I know mental health is such an issue for many people in the UK at the moment.
Three, we were nervous about being unable to find work, with the unemployment rate being high. We have jobs here in Australia, so why would we risk that?
Four, with lockdown there is no life for us at home, so we may as well stay here, with somewhat normality, rather than move back – even if I do worry and miss my family and friends like mad.
On Sunday, January 24, Australia reported one week without recording any new local cases of coronavirus. The country is on track to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from February onwards, helping to further eradicate the virus.
As of January 26, the country has recorded a total of 28,780 cases and 909 total deaths. In comparison, the UK has recorded 3,680,101 cases and 98,723 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak.
The UK began rolling out the coronavirus vaccine in December, but residents remain in lockdown as the government tries, yet again, to prevent the spread.
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CreditsThe Guardian and 1 other
Sydney Morning Herald