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Staying Safe with COVID-19 in Australia

Last night a nursing home informed me that my 95 year old mother was in isolation, having developed high temperatures. She had been swabbed for COVID-19 and results might be available in two to five days.

I was not at all surprised, not just because of the known vulnerability of patients in nursing homes, but because of my personal experience in nursing and with this nursing home.

A few weeks ago, when COVID-19 was already around, I was asked by staff to come to the nursing home in order to sign a document on behalf of my mother. Anticipating a state of policy paralysis regarding infection control and COVID-19, I wore my own gloves to the nursing home and waited for staff to bring the documents to my car. I produced my own pen to sign with. I noted that the keypad at the entrance of the nursing home was an obvious fomite or transmission source for infection. The nursing staff told me that they had not thought of this. It seemed to me that the only way people might prevent infection via keypad from the hundreds of fingers that touched it each day would be to wear gloves or otherwise place a disposable transparent plastic barrier over it, to be changed for each patient.

My mother is 95 and sustained acute severe brain injury in 2012, with her condition slowly deteriorating further due to failure to treat the causes. She now recognises no relatives or friends. The nursing home has now banned visitors and, in any case, I could not visit her without endangering myself and others, so I have resigned myself to her dying without me, her last close relative. She will be in the presence of various nurses, however, to whom she relates, and who relate to her. It is possible, however, that she will not die, just as it is possible that she does not have COVID-19.

In the meantime I have been in retreat for a couple of weeks to Lake Eucumbene in the high country of NSW, unable to access the internet. I am in company of a very old friend, who belongs to a cohort vulnerable to COVID-19. Will this be the last goodbye, I wonder.

A few days ago we were healthy enough to walk the 16km from Charlotte Pass to Mt Kosiusko peak. A lot of other people seemed to have had the same idea though, although most seemed keen to stay out of each other's way.

This unpaved road where we have taken a villa, has few houses, widely separated, used only for holidays. In the past few days all of them have become inhabited by refugees fleeing virus-infested Sydney.

Although there is substantial mature forest here, there is almost no wildlife, although it is usually teeming. We have seen the same wallaby twice, three brush-tailed possums, one currawong, two kookaburras, a couple of rosellas, and two currawongs. Fires nearby will have destroyed a lot of habitat and inhabitants, but we wonder if the extreme heat in the new year killed most creatures here.

Unfortunately we cannot stay here for much longer. In a week or two I must return to Melbourne, where I maintained a relatively isolated state for several weeks prior. My friend will avoid going home to his flat in Sydney because his family there is exposed to multiple infective sources. He has decided to go and stay in another flat in Sydney that belongs to another friend who is currently stranded in Italy - in the viral epicentre.

Many sad goodbyes in store for so many people in this country as those of us who can, bunk down.

Stay safe at home!