Social distancing. Flattening the curve. The pivot. The furlough. The stand-down. The new stance. These are dances of our moment. How did we get here?
Word of a new virus began seeping into my consciousness at the beginning of the year. A new SARS, it seemed, or a new MERS. Something serious, but definitely something happening somewhere else. I live in Australia, and had begun the year having been evacuated on New Year’s Eve from a friend’s farm on the coast of New South Wales under the threat of fire. I was witness to the burning of 18 million hectares of land and a billion animals, the smoke plume from the east coast stretching across the Pacific to reach South America. This virus was not top-mind. Something serious, but something happening somewhere else. We had plenty happening right here.
But then of course (spoiler alert!), the virus was probably here already. In my world, which is food, drink and restaurants, the first intimations that the effects of this this new virus were going to be felt worldwide came from the Chinatowns of Melbourne and Sydney. They were emptying out. I’d been trying to catch the owner of one of Melbourne’s most prominent Chinese restaurants. I work for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival and we had some collaborations planned for the festival’s Sichuan Snack Fair. He was apologetic when I finally reached him: “I’ve just spent a week trying to get bank loans,” he said. “All my restaurants are empty.” Then the owners of one of the city’s old-school Cantonese landmarks suddenly announced that they were closing the doors. Business had dropped 80 per cent in a week.