For many Victorians, Dan Andrews’ COVID press conference on Sunday was quite the event. After weeks in lockdown, we were desperate to know what treats might be thrown our way at 11.59pm on Sunday, September 13 – the proposed time Stage 4 restrictions would ease.
As my friend put it “it’s like Christmas Eve, and you don’t know whether you’re going to get socks or an X-Box”.
On social media that morning, everyone furiously tried to find out what time the press conference would be (hat tip to the @WhatTimeDan Twitter account). People connected from their lockdown loungerooms on Zoom to watch the press conference together, and virtually hold hands as we learned our fate.
My friend wore this mask for our Zoom viewing, which perfectly summed up the vibe:
To be clear, I am not anti Dan Andrews. Heck, I joined a Facebook group to give him a virtual hug. I genuinely believe the guy is trying his hardest to get us out of the mud, and he looks thoroughly exhausted when he fronts the press conference every single day – in his now iconic North Face jacket – to doggedly respond to every single question.
Most of the time I don’t waver from my understanding that the restrictions he is making are necessary, and compared to our grandparents who went to war/had to walk 20km to school in snow with no shoes, staying at home isn’t too much to ask.
We live in a first-world country and most of us have a comfortable place to see this out (cc Bec Judd).
We are lucky in so many ways. I understand this virus is not something to take lightly, and people way smarter than me have crunched the numbers and created the road map. But working out how we’re going to keep going, what “living” is going to look like is nerve-racking stuff.
A big topic of conversation over the past six weeks had been the mental impact of Stage 4 on people living on their own (too bad if you had lost Intimate Partner Musical Chairs, and had missed out on locking someone down before the music stopped and restrictions kicked in).
Plenty of people were keen to hear what concessions would be made for them.
And at first glance, those concessions were on the slim side: we learned that from September 14, individuals can meet a friend outdoors for up to two hours; but the big bit of news was that from September 14 people living alone (or single parents with kids under 18) can nominate one “bubble friend” who can visit you.
All of a sudden being asked to be someone’s bubble friend was like being asked to prom. The topic even began trending on Twitter.
While the prospect of being a bubble buddy does have its charms (a few of my friends with kids have said it’s like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket – a great way to parachute out of family lockdown life), the emotional pressure on that one soul could be pretty big. “Here, take a seat while I download six weeks of dark thoughts I had in the shower. And I beg you, come back tomorrow night so I can go on”.
While metro Melbourne’s evening curfew does have its downsides, after a string of evenings like this, it might provide some sweet relief for the bubble buddies.
I know there are Victorians who have bigger problems to face. There are people separated from sick family members, people who can’t attend the funerals of loved ones, hospital staff putting their lives on the line and business owners whose livelihood is on the brink.
But we’re all also playing the same game: reading the daily updates like religious texts, trying to make them relate to our own lives, trying to find the right balance between faithful observance and working out which loopholes might let us live a virtuous life but manage to get through yet another week.
We’re all looking for things that will help us keep the faith.
Which is why I couldn’t help but scratch my head at one of Sunday’s announced exemptions.
From September 28, public gathering increases to five people for up to two hours but they have to be from a maximum of two households. So essentially, if you live solo, that means you can only meet with people from one household at a time.
Outdoor religious gatherings with five people and a leader are allowed. And there’s no restriction on the number of households the congregants can come from.
I want to be clear – I have nothing against religion (as long as it’s not used to start wars, people don’t force their views on others, and it’s not used to milk people for money).
In fact, I kind of envy it. I’d love to have faith that this whole situation was part of some divine plan that my tiny mortal brain didn’t understand.
I don’t begrudge religious groups from being able to gather. But the fact that this exception is made for a singular group clangs.
What if music is your religion, and you want to sit in your backyard and play with five mates? Why do some acts of faith, some congregations of love and support, deserve exceptions over other more secular options?
For me, my group of six girlfriends is sacred. I worship them and consider them family. The support I get from them could arguably be akin to what people get from their religious community. Communing with them again (in person … Zoom is pants), is the thing I am most looking forward to.
So in the spirit of divine loopholes, I’m taking it as an opportunity. I posted to our group WhatsApp and floated the idea of starting my own religious group. I even Googled how long it takes to get ordained (fun fact: it takes just five minutes in America).
After some mild protests about my automatic appointment as leader (someone wondered whether Melbourne’s beloved Father Bob would agree to accompany us to the park instead), my friends agreed to join. We acknowledged there wouldn’t be much fodder for the confession booth after 20+ years of oversharing.
I almost lost them when I called for everyone to wear orange robes (which was admittedly a bit of a dick move – barely anyone looks good in orange).
But they rejoined my flock when I decreed a very decent rosé would be used for the sacrament. And by god, the pours will be generous.
Simone Mitchell is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter.