If you go down to the café today…
I’m sure that many of you have seen the picture circulating on social media of the Parisian café with giant teddy bears strategically placed to ensure social distancing. If you haven’t, you can read about it here. The bears sit at tables, apparently in mid-conversation, with cutlery, glasses and serviettes laid out before them. The humans in the café seem almost as interlopers in this Ursidae gathering of brown fluffiness. I was captivated by the photo I saw – I was impressed with the café owner’s inventiveness which made physical distancing seem a bit less alienating, and intrigued by my reaction, and others who commented on social media about it.
Now that we have passed the three-month mark on our COVID-19-induced isolation, many of us are becoming normalised to the new social conventions. We avoid hugging friends and shaking hands, clear a path for others in the supermarket or on the street, use copious hand sanitiser and, although few of us will confess to this, keep an eagle eye on our canned tomato, pasta and toilet paper supplies, ready to pounce at the first indication of a rush on supplies. These are the probably the easy parts of lockdown to which we have adapted.
The disruption, uncertainty and anxiety of these “unprecedented” times – on our health, our finances, our careers and our relationships – are the most difficult to endure.
I have had many emails and conversations with members over the past three months about what more the Bar can do to support members. We are in regular contact with government departments to ensure that ministers are appraised of the effect the pandemic is having on our profession. We also speak regularly with the courts about their plans to open up – and our “In Conversation” webinar series has provided the opportunity for the Heads of Jurisdiction to explain the constraints that they are under and how they plan to move forward. For those who have missed these, the recordings are on the VicBar website news page here. The President of the Children’s Court, Her Honour Judge Amanda Chambers, is “In Conversation” with Melissa Stead next Tuesday afternoon – register here if you’d like to attend.
It has of course been very disappointing that the recent outbreak has caused more disruption to the judicial system – with in-person hearings suspended in Melbourne and Dandenong Family and Federal Circuit Courts. As part of this “new normal”, I fear that we are going to have to accept that there will be rolling temporary closures of courts, schools, businesses and entertainment venues going forward.
There is also a lot more COVID-19 testing going on – not only in the postcodes identified by the government as being of particular concern, but for many more people as we feel the steely grip of winter bring on sniffles and colds. Please, if you have any cold or flu symptoms, get tested and email VicBar to let us know so that we can alert BCL and take precautionary action, which includes informing those on your floor and undertaking a deep clean if you test positive. You will notice that several floors in chambers are on restricted access to minimise the potential for the virus to spread should someone be infected – it does not mean that anyone on those floors has been exposed to the virus. Through contact tracing, you will be alerted if you have been in contact with someone infected. Remember that the government’s advice remains that if you can work from home, you must work from home.
This lockdown has lasted longer, and has been more intense, than any of us imagined. None of us are immune to its economic and social effects – as we are not immune to the virus itself. I hope that many of you will be able to take some vacation time and, whether you can or not, that you find some respite from the challenges this situation has wrought and enjoy some time with family and friends. If you are finding it difficult to cope and would like to talk to a professional counsellor, remember that the Bar has two independent services for members and their families, details of which are on the VicBar member Health & Wellbeing page here.
And keep those teddy bears in mind, picnicking in the café in the 13th arrondissement. They can’t help but make you smile.