Paul Henderson—Senior Research Fellow at Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand

Rebuilding our resilience: from the other side of Omicron

By Dr Paul Henderson March 22, 2022

Today in Brisbane, I went to see my doctor. I did not wear a mask on the footpath there. Neither did I wear a mask inside or during consultation. After, I shopped, mixing with other maskless Brisbanites—young and old. I embraced a friend, drank a smoothie in a café, and chatted with a waitress. I watched kids tripping along to school—knapsacks on their backs, and buses packed with commuters heading downtown. At lunch I will swim in a pool, recently closed, and sunbathe. Tonight, twelve friends are over for a potluck and to watch a film. Masks, social distancing, vax passes? All gone.

Only several weeks back, our lives were shrunk—a version of current life in New Zealand. We could not travel overseas easily, and interstate travel was impossible. We could not work in the office, dine with friends, or go to the gym. Schools were shut and universities were ghost towns.

Masks were particular bugbears. They pulled our ears, recycled bad breath, smelled after 10 minutes, and in 30°C heat with humidity at 88%, proved unbearable. Steamed up sunnies and glasses were simply left in the drawer.

We were wary of everyone and everything. Our morning walks along the Brisbane River were peppered with anxiety as runners passed us, throwing off particles of sweat and occasionally spitting. And then there was the risk of someone getting too close to us. Or worse, coughing. Something we desperately tried not to do. And as for doorhandles and the lift buttons to our apartment—they were constantly dabbed with antibacterial gel. Once home, it was the same with our hands.

But what has astonished me is how quickly waters recede. Quickly learned habits and what we thought was a way of life went out with the tide. No one is quite sure why. A determination to open the borders to tourists and exiled families? Vaccination targets met? Omicron not as bad as Delta? Still functioning hospitals? Or was it just people acting as if they had had enough—and wanting to celebrate? But when it happened restrictions came off quickly. Perhaps we should be cautious.

Is everything the same as it was? In most ways, yes. We are mixing and laughing again. But civic culture is stronger. We now have a better understanding of ourselves in a time of crisis. By and large Brisbanites didn’t panic. They acted intelligently and with restraint in the face of fear. They also navigated passionate dissent and looked out for those who weren’t coping.

My sense is that in this, and in far worse circumstances, communities are much more resilient than we imagine when it comes to helping others and rebuilding lives.

Keep your head about you, remain calm, act with restraint, don’t fear, navigate dissent, and watch for those who are struggling. If you can do that, you will find fears and assumptions around restrictive and dystopian futures are nightmares and only that.

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Paul Henderson—Senior Research Fellow at Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand

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