The Challenges Tasmania’s Young People Face With COVID-19

The Challenges Tasmania’s Young People Face With COVID-19

The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has felt like a strange dream for Katherine, especially from an island at the bottom of Australia. Here's what life looks like now for her and five of her mates in Tassie.

The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has felt like a strange dream. So real, and yet also so unbelievable at the same time. I live in Tasmania, that small island that often gets forgotten about at the bottom of Australia. We only had our first case of COVID-19 here at the beginning of March, and since then, numbers have grown and things have begun to change. 

At the time of writing this, there are 28 confirmed cases, the majority of whom are international travellers. Two days ago they closed our border to any non-essential travellers, and anybody returning to our state will have to undergo a compulsory 14-day quarantine.

Living on an island during this pandemic is strange. It feels oddly comforting to know that we are already isolated from the rest of the world, but there’s also an underlying voice reminding me that there’s nowhere to run to.

Jess, a Tasmanian university student, age 20, thinks that “Provided that this [virus outbreak] is handled correctly, the unique borders could make it easier for the government to gain more control than other states and territories.”

As our infected numbers here are still small, personal measures aren’t quite as drastic as the rest of the country, or the world, but we’re still being told to practice social distancing when we can and to avoid going out where lots of people are. Workplaces are shutting down, laying people off and moving to working from home arrangements, and it’s slowly starting to sink in that we mightn’t get off as lucky as many of us thought.

Social distancing is the main message but it’s easier said than done and in a tough time, it’s hard to be without your support network. Social media seems to be the ultimate solution to this, and it makes me wonder how people got by in epidemics of earlier times. Frances, age 29, works in the Hobart retail scene and says, “I contact many of my family and friends by social media or phone. I’d much prefer to see them in person, but I know I have to limit visits during this time.”

There’s been a lot of talk about how the virus only affects old people; that they’re really vulnerable to COVID-19. While I’m sure we all have elderly friends and family who we’d rather didn’t get ill and die, it’s also completely incorrect.

Full-time Tasmanian university student Sarah, age 23, was diagnosed with cancer just over a week ago.

“At the moment I’m trying to self-isolate as much as possible, but I also have appointments to attend,” Sarah said. Her diagnosis means that she will need to undergo surgery, and likely chemotherapy, making her even more vulnerable to the virus. “I need the emotional support of my friends and family. I need hugs, but I can’t have company because social distancing is what everyone has to do now.”

Full-time Tasmanian university student Sarah, age 23, was diagnosed with cancer just over a week ago. Source: Sarah

Cancer isn’t the only thing that makes young people vulnerable to the disease. Hannah, 20, suffers from several autoimmune diseases and is on multiple immunosuppressive medications, which are used for organ transplant recipients, and to treat diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. They reduce the effectiveness of a person’s immune system.

Hannah has been self-isolating for several weeks already, as she is hugely at risk from complications of the disease. Currently a student at the University of Tasmania, Hannah is studying to be a doctor.

“Uni has moved fully online, which is interesting when you’re studying medicine. We’ve had to stop our clinical interactions as they can’t be done online,” she said.

Hannah, age 20, is immunocompromised and has been self-isolating for weeks. Source: Hannah

Even those who aren’t directly at risk are still suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Kelsea, age 29, is a small business owner in Hobart. Currently, Kelsea is self-isolating as much as possible, but still leaving her home to go to work. “The government hasn’t offered any financial support for micro-businesses, but I feel this will have to change soon. I am hopeful of this so I can close my doors and self-isolate fully,” she said.

Work is one of the biggest concerns among my community with many employers having to make the hard decision to cut hours or stand staff down. Mick, age 25, works in the seafood industry as a farmhand. He was told that his work would be suspended for at least two weeks while the business made a decision on how to move forward. “It has to happen, but it sucks for individuals. Hopefully, we’ll get it under control soon.”

It seems incredible to me that mere weeks ago we were all planning our next overseas holidays, getting geared up for sports seasons and waiting for the Olympics to start. Now the world seems to be crumbling around us.

Tassie is a strange vortex to be in, feeling ‘safe’ for now on our little island, but being able to see what may lie ahead if we don’t take these measures seriously. My hope is that we have taken the necessary measures early enough and that I’m not writing next week telling you a different story.