In New ZealandPeople go to malls without a mask and share popcorn with friends in cinemas. In Australia, they watch live theater and sports and see bands at full concerts. Thais in Bangkok drink and dance in bustling bars, while Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, gathered more than 130,000 people for one of the few Pride parades held in person this year.
“The pride was huge. There were a lot of people out and about, ”said Perry Truong, a 25-year-old English teacher who moved to Taiwan last year from the US, which currently has nearly 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, to Taiwan, where there are none. It was a new locally transmitted case of the coronavirus in more than 200 days. “It’s really not in my head at all,” said Truong. “I’m not afraid of getting the virus. I’m not afraid of not wearing a mask in public places. For lack of a better word, it’s really normal.”
“It feels weird,” he added, “because I have a feeling if people talk about it 10 years from now, they will say,” Do you remember the pandemic? “And I’ll say,” There was a pandemic? “
As the third surge in the pandemic ravages the US, where overstretched hospitals are currently treating more than 100,000 patients with COVID-19 and deaths soaring to record levels, many Americans are returning to lockdown again. While the vaccinations begin for some, it will still be a long and dark winter for most. Nine months after the pandemic, our pre-COVID life seems to be a distant memory.
However, in parts of the world, the coronavirus seems a long way off. With the help of geographic isolation or the government’s response, or both, infections are low to nonexistent in several countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where life is virtually normal. Some people even occasionally forget that a pandemic is coming.
“I feel like there were days when I forgot there was a pandemic, especially days when I didn’t go out so much and just stayed around me,” said Jade Dhangwattanotai, a 25-year-old -year-old software developer in Bangkok.
“Yes, in my daily life I forget it. The worries are gone in many ways, ”said Annalize Hayman, a 35-year-old mother of two in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world. That state has had eight months with no cases of community transmission, and now Hayman doesn’t think twice about taking her kids to the playground or participating in a crowded game of Australian rules. She has never had to wear a face mask. She doesn’t even own one. “I remember feeling very panic at the beginning,” she said, “but now I’m just worried about other countries where cases are increasing.”
In a normal world, anecdotes about careless people visiting restaurants or planning overcrowded Christmas dinners for families may not be remarkable, but now they are enough to arouse exquisite jealousy in countries where the pandemic is still going on. Tweets about moving to New Zealand are suddenly everywhere, as is the Squidward Window meme from Spongebob. In 2020 normality has become current.
“Everything is basically normal now,” said Lucy Withers, a 28-year-old grocery store worker in Christchurch, New Zealand’s South Island, where the lockdown ended in June. She hasn’t worn a face mask in months and now dines comfortably at tables no more than three feet apart. “I see my family; they come over; We’re going to eat. It’s just perfectly normal. “
Returning to normal in these happy countries – or as much as possible in a global pandemic – was not a miracle but hard-won. In New Zealand, the entire country experienced one of the strictest and earlier lockdowns in March. In August, Auckland’s 1.7 million residents were locked down again for more than a month after an outbreak. The number of new cases that resulted in the shutdown? Only 17. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who won re-election in a landslide in October, thanks in part to her way of dealing with the crisis.
Australian officials also imposed a heavy lockdown in Victoria state in June after a cluster formed there that triggered hundreds of new cases every day. It took more than 100 days, but the state has not had any new infections since late October.
“Lockdowns suck. You understand why this is necessary, but it still takes a heavy toll on the people, ”said Chase Madsen, a 26-year-old Auckland creative producer who attended a major family wedding last weekend after the virus was virtually cleared was. “Still, I think you’ll have a hard time finding someone in New Zealand who thinks the bans weren’t worth it unless they’re political or naive.”
Other countries like Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea have never been locked down to tame the virus. Instead, they relied on a mix of technological measures such as extensive contact tracing and testing, and cultural practices such as the generally accepted wearing of masks. “Even before COVID, when people were sick, they wore masks on buses and trains as an extra precaution,” said Karmen Truong, a 26-year-old digital marketer in Taipei. “When COVID happened, it wasn’t really a problem. “
Of course, geography also plays a role. Island states like New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, and Singapore certainly have an easier time controlling incoming international arrivals. Hell, even South Korea’s only land border is the demilitarized zone with the north. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in American Samoa, one of the few places in the world – and the only US territory – where not a single COVID infection has been recorded. This was mainly due to the governor’s decision in late March to completely close the island to outsiders. Even local residents who were abroad at the time cannot return home.
“We have public events as usual,” said Kelley Anderson Tagarino, professor of marine science at the University of Hawaii, who has lived in American Samoa for 12 years and recently hosted a first birthday party for her child. “All the little kids hung out in the pool together, chasing each other, and the adults hung out talking, drinking, and drinking beer, as always. We hug each other. We can do anything without a mask. “
However, life is not entirely normal. The college she teaches is currently low on staff (at least one employee is stuck in California), and they are still doing COVID exercises and practicing wearing a mask for a virus that is not there. “It is definitely a very surreal experience to see all the terrible effects that are going on around the world and just all of the inequalities that keep getting worse,” she added. “I think we feel very happy for us here to have been COVID-free so far.”
The countries where people are still allowed stop possible infections through strict hotel quarantine programs. In Taiwan, a migrant worker from the Philippines was fined around $ 3,500 this week for stepping out of his room for violating the eight-second rule. In Australia, only citizens are allowed to enter the country and then have to spend 14 days in a room that cannot open a window in a hotel controlled by guards – a privilege that the arriving travelers have to pay more than 2,200 US dollars for.
Travel between Australian states was also largely restricted for months, particularly during the Victorian boom. Western Australia didn’t open its borders until this week after a nine-month shutdown, resulting in tearful airport reunions. “We kept COVID out and saved people’s lives,” boasted Head of State Mark McGowan. “And it has brought Western Australia’s economy back to life faster than we ever expected.”
The US, of course, has no such restrictions. Many states have mandated that arriving travelers from areas with high infection rates self-isolate for 14 days, but the patchwork of regulations has hardly been enforced in practice. (A major exception was Hawaii, where travelers were arrested for breaking a two-week quarantine, though it was later relaxed.) At the federal level, President Donald Trump restricted travel from China in February (after most airlines suspended flights) and Europe in March, but gaps still allowed dozens of people to return and return to their communities.
Comparing the US with Australia this week, the Washington Post concluded that the positive situation Down Under is in part due to the fact that the virus has been largely depoliticized there, as well as the relative “willingness of Australians to adapt” and more To put trust in the government. An attitude developed in part through a system of compulsory voting. But Natasha Matthews, a psychology professor at the University of Queensland (UQ) who is currently planning a big family Christmas party in Brisbane, doesn’t think it’s that easy.
“I would say Australians are pretty skeptical about the government. Politicians are not considered amazing people. Everyone rolls their eyes and talks about them, ”she said. “It’s not that we made the sacrifices for Australia. We’re doing it for each other. We didn’t do it because we thought the government would like it. We did it because it would like it each other. ”
There are ongoing signs of the pandemic. When Matthews visits the post office, people are still waiting in line 6 feet apart and she is a little cautious. Courses at the university are still taught online whenever possible and people are further apart in parks, but Brisbane city life has resumed. The Queensland Theater, Australia’s third largest theater company, is once again staging plays, although directors are finding creative workarounds so actors don’t have to interact closely with each other for long periods of time. “If you haven’t really looked for it, you can’t say it was produced in COVID times,” said UQ drama lecturer Chris Hay, who has seen two plays since it emerged.
“In terms of the way the world is here, certainly in Queensland, you will have a hard time telling the difference between this year and last,” added Hay. “There’s a little more awareness of borders, of peripheries, but they’re the kind of thing Australians didn’t have anyway.”
While Americans look at these countries with envy, they look back in horror. The changing situation here is big news for the people there as they struggle to understand America’s unique culture and politics. “I see the whole situation less critically [in America] because I know that there are probably cultural differences in the US and that people are more open-minded, ”said Dhangwattanotai, the software developer in Bangkok. “But I hear my friend in the US say that some people don’t believe that it’s a thing, or that it isn’t that serious, or that they can get it and have a rest and it’s okay. I think that’s crazy. “
“I think we just don’t get it,” said Hayman, the Perth mother. “Maybe because we’re not celebrating Thanksgiving, just the idea of traveling around the country and meeting up in these big groups when it’s such a catastrophic situation – the idea that it’s all about yourself: ‘I want to me and i want to see my family! “Well, we haven’t seen our friends or family from other states in almost a year. It’s a bit like What do you do? Why would you put other people at risk? It’s amazing. “
Although these countries largely avoided a public health crisis, they still suffer the same global impact from the virus. Australia has entered its first recession in 29 years and the loss of international travelers has destroyed the region’s economies that rely on tourism. Dhangwattanotai’s online travel agency went through multiple rounds of layoffs and friends of his lost their jobs. He wears a mask on the train, as required, but not in the office where the desks are now further apart.
Karmen Truong, the digital marketer, has also gone to her Taipei office to have her temperature taken upon entry. Since they were never banned there, their company never had to find new ways of working, which makes them almost jealous of their friends and family in the UK. “Maybe all of this work from home and the use of zoom is part of the digital revolution that we missed because we never had to,” she said.
But new possibilities have also arisen. Pan Pan Narkprasert said people in Bangkok thought it naive to open a new bar with drag queen performances during the pandemic. Bars catering to tourists struggled but he had confidence that the locals would come and now business is booming. “We were in curfew for about three months. When we came out everyone felt like they were dancing after the war and having the time of their lives,” he said. “People missed basic human interaction.”
While closing borders is an effective way to keep the virus out, it can also feel difficult to be cut off from the world, especially for people with loved ones overseas. In American Samoa, Anderson Tagarino is worried about her family in Florida and those with her on the island. Many cannot see loved ones in nearby Independent Samoa, which saw its very first infection last month. “Even though people are some of the last COVID-free places on earth, they have had to watch their loved ones die on a phone because they can’t see them,” she said.
Courtney Rodriguez, a 33-year-old Canadian who lives in Perth with her husband, feels blessed that she never had to wear a mask, but misses her family in Ottawa. “It’s a very strange way of being because your brain is in different places,” she said. “Although Perth is home, we obviously have a large part of our hearts and thoughts with our family back home. It’s like in two worlds. “
When speaking to those in Canada who are dealing with a deadly second wave right now, she has to be careful what she says – avoid mentioning the party you went to, or the soccer game with friends, or the trip to the cinema to see it Happiest season. “You blame this very strange survivor,” she said, “especially when you’re talking to family and friends in your hometown who are locked up again and wearing masks.”
Friends ask Perry Truong, the English teacher in Taiwan, about his family in the United States, but even he cannot imagine what life must be like there. “They have millions of cases and we have not had any locally transmitted disease cases,” he said. “I’m so far away that I can’t even understand how it feels in America right now.”
“I feel like I look into the past with all these people,” he said. “I feel like I am in the future and look back on all the people who are still suffering.” ●