Motion-blurred crowd of pedestrians
(Image: Unsplash/Mauro Moro)

Remember the two-speed economy? Now we have two-speed time. For the growing number of Australians isolating at home, and the hundreds of millions of people in lockdown in Europe and Asia, time is passing ponderously in a world deprived of social contact, of friends and extended family, of sport, of hospitality, of being able to go to a cafe or bar, or even for a walk. 

But outside, time now moves quicker than ever. Events seemed to move fast during the financial crisis: banks would collapse overnight; bailout packages in the hundreds of billions would appear between going to bed and getting up; bureaucrats in Canberra had to stay up all night watching offshore events so that their bosses could be fully informed of the context for rapid decisions around saving the economy.

Life in the time of COVID-19, however, is much quicker again. Look away from your screen for a moment and there’ll be another death, another 100 cases, another lockdown, another closure, another sport shut down.

Since last week governments and central banks have launched dozens of stimulus packages and market interventions, far outstripping what was announced over weeks and months during the financial crisis.

Social media — only a nascent phenomenon in 2008 — naturally accelerates not merely the sense of crisis, but the actuality of it. We can see in real time what foreign leaders and policymakers, as well as our own, are saying, we can see what experts and non-experts alike are saying in response.

Leaders are pressed to respond. Why aren’t they doing this? Why aren’t they closing that? The Johnson government announced its stimulus package last Wednesday UK time, as part of its budget (which was already highly stimulatory, being chock-full of Johnson’s election promises to spend up big). It announced another package less than six days later.

This is life at viral speed, even as many of us sit at home and wait. Consider how much the world has changed in fewer than 10 days:

Nine days ago:

  • Donald Trump attacks the “fake news media” and Democrats for inflaming the coronavirus situation.

Seven days ago:

  • Liverpool’s second leg UEFA Champions League round of 16 game against Atletico Madrid is played in front of a full crowd, other Champions League games continue without fans.

Six days ago:

  • The NBA season is suspended, after two players test positive
  • Victoria’s health minister says the Formula 1 Grand Prix will still go ahead
  • Round one of the NRL begins in front of live crowds, despite criticism. 

Five days ago:

  • Premier Dan Andrews says the Grand Prix will happen behind closed doors, Matthias Cormann says he’d go if he was in Melbourne
  • Later, Grand Prix is cancelled
  • Scott Morrison, on Alan Jones: “Look I’m sorry to say that to the Bunnies fans down there at South Juniors this morning, but I’ll be out supporting the Sharks on Saturday night.”
  • Scott Morrison, at a press conference later: “The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks. It might be the last game I get to go to for a long time. And that’s fine. In the future, I suspect we might be watching them on television, and that’s okay as well.” (He doesn’t go to the sharks.)

Four days ago:

  • In the UK, Boris Johnson’s government is reportedly basing its response on the concept of herd immunity, assuming over 60% of the population will get infected and develop immunity. Public health experts and epidemiologists slam the idea
  • Sydney Writer’s Festival suspends ticket sales, just days after releasing program.

Three days ago:

  • Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says we can still shake hands
  • Later, Scott Morrison says handshakes are out. Anyone arriving in Australia must self-isolate for 14 days
  • NRL to be played behind closed doors. Chairman Peter V’landys asks for public money to deal with losses
  • The National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library, and museums in the state all close.

Two days ago:

  • Boris Johnson urges Britons to self-isolate, an apparent reversal of the controversial herd immunity approach
  • Sydney Writer’s Festival is cancelled
  • Qantas and Jetstar to give passengers hit by travel restrictions credit.

One day ago:

  • Qantas cuts number of international flights by 90%
  • Government announces a $715 million support package for domestic airlines, after reports many operators worldwide could be bankrupt by May. Australians overseas urged to come home as soon as possible
  • Trump administration releases new guidelines limiting non-essential gatherings to under 10 people.

Zero days ago:

  • Virgin suspends all overseas flights
  • In an unprecedented move, the Morrison government updates advice and tells Australians not to travel. Ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of over 100 people.