I know its been said ad infinitum and meme-fied everywhere, but 2020 really has been a bell end of a year.

Sitting here in Melbourne with 16 days of double doughnuts, traffic on the roads, children screeching about happily in playgrounds, cafe’s and shops open, I wanted to thank  everyone for their part in helping us to get us to this point.

Australia has been, in many ways very fortunate, even in Victoria, our infections and deaths have been tiny compared to the losses sustained in Europe and the US. But even so, working in the Victorian aged care outbreaks,  knowing that didn’t make it any easier, but thankful that we did not have it worse. Colleagues in the hospital settings felt the same – the pressure of caring for people with a virus that is terrifyingly infectious, where a mistake with your protective equipment could risk you, your family and colleagues health and perhaps life is tiring. My team was lucky, we had all the gear we needed, but the stories from others was that protective equipment was not to be had for love or money adding to the stress.  The wider impact of shutting down a lot of the health services was that chronic diseases were perhaps not monitored and managed as tightly, new, serious illness were not detected, treatments not initiated and we’re starting to see that now. In the aged care homes, there was so much distress; the staff who were doing their best in exceptionally difficult situations, the residents who were suddenly isolated from the familiar, everyone was in full masks, gowns and faceshields, visits from loved ones were not allowed, on top of the ever present risk of the virus running rampant through the facility. It was heartbreaking seeing patients die without the comfort of loved ones by their side, unable to say goodbye in person.

Despite the immediate threat having passed, now we’re starting to see the lingering effects of the disease.

The collateral impact of the lockdown also heavily impacted so many others. Others in healthcare, including many among ASPAH members were unable to provide service as usual and many pivoted and signed up to assist in the effort – joining testing crews, helping with contact tracing. In my other work as a GP i saw the effect on people of all other walks of life, loss of income, uncertainty, mental health issues, domestic violence. I also worked up near the tower lockdowns early on and saw the disparity in our care for those in marginalised, forgotten groups. Psychologists stepped up and took on incredible workloads supporting us through the uncertainty and anxiety of the lockdown.  Academics, schools and university were shuttered and they were incredible at how they rapidly adapted to deliver content and assessment remotely. Public health was thrust into the limelight as modelling, R0, exponential growth became the topic of conversation as they gracefully, methodically guided us through despite all the armchair experts vocal opining.

And It has hit the arts particularly harshly, with no opportunity to perform and large swathes of the industry not eligible for government support and the promised support was patchy at best.

However, I am in awe of how artists have stepped up to the challenge with grace- from generously streaming performances both archival works and innovative new works,  to teachers rapidly adapting to teaching class over zoom – keeping kids engaged and interested during the interminable lockdown, masterclasses from incredible artists around the world, our amazing dancers from the Australian Ballet working hard at home and reaching out to guest teach across the country. I even tried doing some classes in the privacy of my own home which just reminded me that it was 10 years ago i retired and arabesques are way harder than i remembered. It’s still a tragic loss of precious year of a short career for many performing artists.

There is still some way to go with theatres not yet open, but am cautiously optimistic and I cannot wait to get back to experience the magic of live performance.

So thank you, its been tough, with one of the longest lockdowns in the world, and there has been so much lost for so many; lives, loved ones, dreams, opportunities, the list goes on. But for now, I am so thankful and proud for the part that we all played in mitigating the losses that we could have sustained, or the threat of second/third waves that we are seeing around the world.

I’ll be getting onto the beers.

Dr Jason Lam