I was sitting with one other person in a sterilised public hospital reception area waiting to be tested for COVID when a scary thought struck: have I just exposed myself to something far more sinister than this bogus virus?
Making it this far had not been easy. At the first hospital where I presented to be tested, I was rudely sent away because I had no symptoms. I was shocked. Hadn’t we been told that spreaders can be asymptomatic? If a person wants to be tested, why would medical staff refuse?
So to get into the second facility I lied that I had recently sat next to someone on public transport who had coughed all over me. I subsequently felt nauseous and had developed a dry cough. I hadn’t. These were the symptoms I read about online only moments before. I even rehearsed a dry cough, just in case.
The two staff at the door, fully covered in PPE gear and face masks, reluctantly granted me entry. Finally, I’d made it in. But now, in the almost empty waiting room, the nurse conducting the tests was also sceptical. I had to embellish the story to convince her that she should do the job I, as a taxpayer, had paid her to do and stick a swab up my nose.
In the end, the staff’s scepticism was justified. I tested negative. It was my second negative test in a week, the previous one being in a different state where testing is more freely available. I wasn’t even slightly surprised by the result.
So why did I do it? Well, let’s just say I had managed to skirt certain border lockdowns by acting quickly when the most recent panic began. I desperately wanted to be home for Christmas to be with my extremely frail mum for what I expect will be her last Christmas. Both my parents are in their 80s. When I told them of my plan to become a Christmas outlaw, they were delighted. Dad was adamant that I should do whatever was necessary to get home.
Had the hospital staff been a bit more curious, they might have wondered why I was so desperate to be tested, done some investigations and discovered that I was covering my arse because I had illegally crossed a state border. I was terrified of the consequences if I actually did have the virus. I knew the odds were at least a million to one, or even longer. But if that unlikely scenario had eventuated, the vindictiveness of our new overlords would have ensured I was pilloried nationwide for not joining in the so-called spirit of sacrifice for the greater good. My movements would have been revealed to the media and investigative journalists would have dug up the library books I failed to return 30 years ago as proof of my moral turpitude. Twitter and Facebook would have then piled on in their usual bloodthirsty way, accusing me of manslaughter.
But my fears about the hospital staff’s vigilance, which sent a shiver down my spine while waiting to be tested, were unfounded. At both hospitals, the staff were standing around doing nothing. Their reluctance to test me wasn’t because they were overworked. Rather, they were too lazy to do the test, let alone get suspicious about my motives. More importantly, they seemed to understand that this pandemic is not as severe as we are being led to believe. Given the opportunity to test a citizen who, as far as they knew, was merely subscribing to the panic, they either preferred to send him on his way or grudgingly went through the motions.
I was told the test result would take at least three days. Instead, it took mere hours. Like the ICU wards that were prepared at the start of the pandemic but remained conspicuously empty, the infrastructure put in place to handle the rush of tests sat idle, manned by staff who seemed to know something the public didn’t.
The incalculably tiny risk I took was worth it. My parents and I enjoyed the Christmas we had planned months earlier. If they never see another Christmas, they will at least have enjoyed this final one. I don’t claim any special bravery for having defied the authoritarians. One of the consequences of this new era of enforced subservience is the increasing number of people who measure the morality of their behaviour by their own terms, regardless of legality. Back when the nation was run by representative politicians, such moral freelancing was unconscionable for anybody who respected democracy. But now that politicians are suspending parliaments and deferring to unaccountable bureaucrats who can’t wait to trample all over our freedoms, ordinary people are resorting to the defiance that is fast becoming the last bastion of our former liberty.
Much about this latest shift in governance reminds me of the sort of totalitarianism we Australians once laughed at, and even fought against. The discrediting of hydroxychloroquin and ivermectin, the manipulation of PCR tests to find cases that aren’t there, the counting of deaths with COVID as deaths from COVID, and the plethora of new rules and regulations to keep us obedient and afraid have nothing to do with the country in which I grew up.
Defying these rules is now a patriotic duty. Luckily, there are ways to do this while remaining technically within the law. On one of the several flights I’ve taken recently I was told to keep my nose and mouth covered by a face nappie. I obeyed, until I bought a small packet of biscuits from the trolley dolly and then spent the rest of the flight slowly nibbling on them. A small victory, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless. If the passenger two seats from me caught anything, it was the sense of liberation that my smug expression conveyed. He can thank me later.
For larger victories, such as visiting elderly relatives for Christmas, one might need to actually stray outside these contrived restrictions. Luckily, we are a nation built by outlaws and free thinkers. Our culture encourages it. For now.
*Fearing Covid retribution, the author wishes to remain anonymous.
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