How will we tackle the pandemic of loneliness after Covid?

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It was New Year’s Eve going into 2020, and I was in a pub in Castlemaine with my friend Stu Speirs.

“What word sums up most for what you want from the year?” I asked him.

“Community,” he said, without hesitation. “A rebellion against this day and age’s individualism and individual interest. And instead an interdependence on others – and a sense of interconnectedness.”

This was all very articulate for 1am on New Year’s Eve but Stu had been thinking about this a lot. He works in event management for small communities around Australia. With the destructive fire season, he saw that it was more important than ever for people to come together and build community.

Of course no one saw what was coming for us, and how prescient the importance of community would turn out to be – but also how tested it would be by the pandemic. Obeying lockdown rules and public health orders that emphasise taking collective action, can strengthen social cohesion and limit the spread of the virus. But the nature of this collective action – isolating ourselves – seems like a cruel cosmic joke. Lockdowns, social distancing, limits on gatherings, cancellation of community sport and live music and the shutdown of public spaces means we are kept away from each other. This can result in difficulty forming and maintaining the very social bonds and resultant community spirit that will get us through the pandemic and allow us to bounce back quicker.

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