In a Pandemic, Everything is Canceled. But Not Our Anxiety.

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The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the Australia bureau.


Days after returning from a long trip in Asia this month, I started feeling feverish. It was probably nothing, a post-trip flu — but was it?

Was every cough now full of coronavirus-laden droplets? Had it been a mistake to see my parents for dinner? Should I not have taken that Uber?

I went to a pop-up coronavirus clinic to get tested. “Everything is fine,” someone had written on a whiteboard in the waiting room. Someone else had made an edit: “Everything is swine.”

As I hung around my apartment for the two days it took to get the results, it wasn’t the monotony that struck me but the infectious nature of fear. Friends with pregnant, elderly or otherwise sick relatives texted me constantly asking how I was feeling.

We were waiting for the green light of a negative test result. But, given the nature of the epidemic, we were also waiting, it seemed, for a higher authority to comfort us and make us all believe that everything really will be fine, and soon.

Those in Hong Kong, where I worked in The New York Times office for a few weeks, were no stranger to life under the coronavirus — face masks are everywhere and a run on toilet paper had already come to shops.

But the panic is rising in Australia, the United States and in several other countries. With the World Health Organization officially declaring a pandemic this week, news updates felt more like the plot of a film than reality itself. “Contagion,” it seems, was well worth the rewatch: Travel between the United States and Europe has been suspended; the NBA canceled its season and Disneyland is closing its doors.

I feel grateful to live in a country with a public health system where testing is both free and relatively straightforward. Australia has not (yet) experienced the degree of challenge countries like China and Italy have faced, as Tom Hanks — who announced this week that he had tested positive while shooting a film in Queensland — now knows.

But as public health systems around the world grapple with the pandemic, the rest of us are left waiting and wondering when the worst will come.

In my case, two days after the test, I called for my results. All clear, I was told. I did not have the coronavirus. I flung open the windows in relief and let everyone know we could go back to breathing the same air. It’s all fine, I’m fine, we’re fine!

But are we?

How nervous are you about the pandemic? And what if anything are you doing about it? Write to me at [email protected] and let me know how you are coping.

The Times is also providing free access to the most important updates of the coronavirus. You can access it here.

Now onto stories of the week.


Australia and New Zealand


Around the Times


And Over to You …

Last week we wrote about the impending closure of the Australian Associated Press and asked whether you were worried about the direction of the Australian media.

I am horrified at the expected closure of this independent service, the A.A.P. We already have such a biased slew of newspaper ownership now, that this service being destroyed makes a mockery of freedom of the press and the arm’s length required between the news makers and the news reports. Added to the constant degradation of the ABC and its superior reporting, it hammers another nail in the coffin of impartial journalism in Australia.

It will soon be at the stage that Australians will only be able to find impartial journalism about Australia by going to OVERSEAS sources! And how crass does that sound?

I wonder if enough of us that care about the need for impartiality can buy the business and keep it intact and doing the great job it historically has done?

-Jennifer Edelman

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