As cases surge in European countries, the existential dread is gone in Australia

A million little things hammer home the differences between Australia and much of the world right now but none more than the phrase “back during Covid”.

I’ve heard several friends say this or something similar since getting here in mid-January and every time it’s stopped me in my tracks.

Not because they’re naive to the continued risk or ignorant of what’s going on in the UK, US, Europe and so many other places right now, but because in a way it’s true.

For many Australians, particularly in my home state of Queensland, the pandemic – in the deadly, life-altering way we understand it – was something that happened back in March and April when people were forced to work from home and cancel trips, weddings and concerts.

There have been difficulties since, but that existential dread is gone.

Watching my adopted home of Portugal go into a strict and lengthy lockdown to control a devastatingly lethal third wave as I arrived in a country essentially going about business as usual was staggering.

Walking into a supermarket without a mask was like one of those dreams where you’ve gone to work with no trousers on, except no one else was wearing trousers either.

Family and old friends hugged me without hesitation – no more elbow bumps – and inviting a few dozen people to a brewery for my birthday felt as extravagant as hiring a yacht filled with champagne.

On the weekend, I went to a gig. Actual live music, real instruments, the lead singer of Brisbane band WAAX hurtling across the stage like it was 2019, revelling in the lifting of a dance ban that had been in place for much of last year.

“This is our first show back after 2020 and we can f—ing stand up!” Marie “Maz” DeVita yelled.