[Image: 'Gearing Up' | © Heather Olsen]
It seems like only yesterday that reports of a new virus in Wuhan started filtering into our consciousness – pushing aside the, until then, daily concern over the Black Summer bushfires, and demanding some of our attention.
And here we are just a few short months later, grappling with the new reality of lockdowns, home schooling, hand sanitiser, daily case number updates and the underlying dread of losing loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I count myself lucky that I already worked from home, so my challenge was more about working out how to cope with home schooling and where my family could actually go to get some exercise, rather than anything more drastic. Compared with many people round the world, the adjustments I have needed to make have been minor – and I am able to keep working (at least to some degree) without the need for face to face meetings or a daily commute to work.
But still the pandemic has hit my usually resilient optimism pretty hard. I know all too well from my work with disadvantaged communities in the Asia-Pacific that many are ill-equiped to deal with the seismic changes that COVID-19 has brought. This is especially true when considering some of the multi-billion $ support packages that Australia has been able to introduce to keep the economy operating – support that many developing nations can only dream of.
The open-ended nature of the pandemic also makes managing its impacts particularly hard for many of our Pacific neighbours. If you don't even have an endpoint in mind (some are saying 2.5 to 3 years from now, but it remains very unclear), then deciding how best to manage your limited resources becomes almost impossible given you were relatively impoverished before the pandemic hit anyway.
Despite the chaos, Australia and New Zealand need to be mindful of our Pacific neighbours and find ways to help them navigate the storms that no doubt lie before us. If previous pandemics like the Spanish Flu are anything to go by, then we have to be thinking about how to help countries like Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands get to the end of 2021 as unscathed as possible – and be ready to continue that help through at least part of 2022.
A global pandemic certainly wasn't in the plan for 2020, with many countries starting the year thinking about how to accelerate progress of the Sustainable Development Goals towards 2030. That has definitely had to take a back seat these past few months, but the urgent work needed on the SDGs isn't going to go away, and helping our neighbours get through the next 2 years of this pandemic could just be one of our most important contributions to supporting the UN's vital work.