The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. This week’s issue is written by Dr. Amaali Lokuge, an emergency physician at The Royal Melbourne Hospital who wrote a dispatch in May about the race to prepare for Covid-19.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I wonder how this time of Covid will appear in retrospect.

The mistakes that seem so obvious now may be viewed as unavoidable slips. Each country may have its own set of mea culpa in dealing with a disease so relentless that humanity could never have controlled it. Other decisions, their menace invisible now, may prove hardest to bear.

In Australia, people breathed a sigh of relief with the easing of restrictions in June, and came up for air like spring bulbs. The feeling was that we had dodged a bullet. At the hospital though, we suspected Covid would come for us later.

August, September, October? It was just a matter of time. The first lockdown had only bought us a reprieve: time to stockpile and prepare.

Now the second wave is here and that time seems like a precious gift. As the cases increased, the plans that we had refined over those months were implemented with meticulous precision. The emergency department divided into hot and cold zones as though it had been built that way. The masses of personal protective equipment we had time to procure meant that we could implement higher level PPE in the hot zone.

There was safety in knowing that we could protect ourselves and our patients.

We also changed in that brief moment of peace. The constant fear seems to have numbed us, replaced with a stillness and a fatalistic resignation. Doctors and nurses have become sick, sometimes from work, sometimes from community transmission. Many of them have returned and continue to look after Covid patients.

Will we get the disease too? Probably, but at least we know most of us will get better. Maybe it was the unknown that was so frightening back in March.

Here in Victoria, we are just gaining control of a second surge in infections. Similar to the rest of the world, the most vulnerable are being decimated by the virus. The nursing homes have collapsed and the elderly are dying too fast.

Thankfully, the health system still has capacity after months of preparation, but if we don’t control the numbers, the unnecessary deaths will haunt us.

I wonder though, if in trying to suppress it, are we allowing this virus — which is the antithesis of humanity — to win anyway? To me, the biggest threat of SARS-CoV-2 is not its virulence, it is the way it slowly erodes what it means to be human.

First it took away touch and that delicious proximity of a spontaneous hug. Then it took away social gatherings and shared meals. Now with mandatory masks we even lose the warming delight of a smile shared with a stranger. Crinkling eyes at them when they are about to pass just doesn’t seem right.

In the hospital, this loss is even more glaring. I still remember in May, the catharsis of hugging the nurse who helped me look after a patient who deteriorated unexpectedly. Now we stand apart, in silence, shielded from each other by layers of PPE which also trap in the emotions. Our eyes desperately try to communicate the stress, which is only released when, at the end of a shift, alone, we change out of our scrubs into civilian clothes.

In the patients’ eyes, the isolation is intense. Rules have been put in place to curtail the spread. No visitors are allowed.

The first sick Covid patient I managed in emergency, an older man, refused intensive care when it became clear that his family would not be permitted to stay with him. His son implored the intensive care team to allow him to stay, and for a long time we stood by the rules for the greater good. The panic settled on the patient’s face and didn’t dissipate until his son agreed to take him home.

In nursing homes as well, patients haven’t seen their families for months. If video chats are soulless to us, how must it feel to say goodbye via video link? A young doctor’s voice broke as she described her day to me, going from one sick or dying patient’s room to another with her iPad, digitally connecting the patients to their relatives at home and witnessing over and over the families fall apart with grief.

This is why, despite the risk, I still see my father who is in his 70s and has Parkinson’s disease and heart problems. When the doctor in me advocated for isolation, he told me firmly that if he is to die from Covid, he would rather catch it from me. Ever the Buddhist, he says: “We will all die, it just may be sooner because of the virus.”

We eventually compromised: He isolates at home and I deliver his groceries twice a week. Do I hug him when I see him? Of course I do. If those hugs are numbered wouldn’t you want to increase the tally?

So even as we wonder and rail against the way the virus got away from us here, it also makes sense. Melbourne is a cosmopolitan, vibrant city which reveled in its connectivity and soul. It seems almost impossible to keep that spirit in check.

The groups gathering at the park are not being selfish or evil, they are just being human. The virus rips through large families like wildfire because even though we try, we can’t suppress the need to touch and hug and be together.

Maybe this is our resistance against a virus which has already taken so much away. Surprisingly, as a health care worker, what worries me most is that we will look back on this time of Covid and be traumatized, not by the fact that so many have died, but by the way we let them die alone.

Here are this week’s stories:

Around the Times

ImageMourners at a memorial outside the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
Credit…Adam Dean for The New York Times

Are you enjoying our Australia bureau dispatches?

Tell us what you think at [email protected].

Like this email?

Forward it to your friends (they could use a little fresh perspective, right?) and let them know they can sign up here.