In late 2019, a new zoonotic disease originating from an animal emerged from the city of Wuhan, Hubei province in China. Similar to SARS-CoV-1 (commonly known as SARS) which also emerged in China in late 2002, this new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 also affects the respiratory (breathing) system and causes a disease called COVID-19. Its common symptoms include fever, dry cough, headache, fatigue, and in severe cases, breathing difficulties and pneumonia which could result in death. The virus infects anyone but tends to be most fatal to people over 60 years of age and to people with pre-existing medical conditions. The virus is very contagious and spreads very easily from person to person, and with global air and sea travel, by early 2020, has infected more and more people around the world with each passing day. The World Health Organisation eventually declared SARS-CoV-2 a worldwide pandemic. Around the world, governments ordered businesses and indoor entertainment, sporting and religious venues shut, borders closed and flights grounded, enforced social restrictions, stay-home orders and quarantine with the use of police and military personnel to slow or stop the spread of the virus.  

As a frequent reader of the news including business and investment news, and observing developments of the pandemic in Australia and in other countries, as Australia’s COVID-19 cases grew, it was very easy to foresee that Australia would follow other countries and implement a lockdown. I made a fairly accurate guess when my workplace would be ordered shut. I took a photo of what was to be my last dinner provided in the staff restaurant, and sure enough, later that night, the Australian Prime Minister issued the order. He ordered a nation-wide stage 1 lockdown effective on mid day of 23 March 2020. With no possible work to perform, I was officially considered stood down from 25 March 2020 as Australia entered stage 2 lockdown on the same day. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the hospitality, tourism, and soon after, travel and retail industries were stood down or laid off by stage 2, requiring government welfare for some continuity in their lives without income. Melbourne (and VIC state) entered stage 3 restrictions on 31 March 2020.

As of 10 April 2020, Australia had 6164 cases of COVID-19. Most cases were in NSW state with VIC state following at second highest. Australia’s death toll has reached 54. Globally, there were more than 1.5 million known cases of infection of which more than 337,000 people have recovered and nearly 95,000 have died. Nobody knows how long it will take to contain the SARS-CoV-2 which is more contagious than SARS-CoV-1 that took 8 months to contain. There is no vaccine for these viruses yet, and even after inventing a safe vaccine, could take 12-18 months to test, approve, and finally mass manufacture for the world. For this reason, nobody can accurately say how long the government-enforced restrictions will continue. It is unlikely that people will resume their normal lives soon and return to their jobs if not already retrenched.

As the rate of new COVID-19 cases rises each passing day, the risk of infection while being in any enclosed public space and supermarkets will rise. I foresaw this risk rising with each passing day hence I quickly went to a barber for the shortest hair cut without going bald, and also canceled my approaching blood donation appointment with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. I gradually filled my pantry with enough food to last a few weeks. As I consumed the food, I sometimes replenished with a little bit more especially if I had observed that the new COVID-19 cases were rising over the past few days which would raise the risk of being in any public spaces and supermarkets. These new cases would also surely result in stronger restrictions by the government. Taking on casual or temporary work in any customer-facing job during this pandemic would become increasingly risky and dangerous as people become aggressive and criminal. Bunkering down (staying at home as much as possible) is really the best way to prevent catching the virus. When out and about for essentials and exercise, keeping a safe distance from other people and not having physical contact were recommended ways to stay safe from the virus.

Economic experts had forecast a rising likelihood of a global recession coming anywhere between 2020 to 2022 due to excessive consumer debts and economic mismanagement in the world but probably nobody expected a coronavirus causing a sudden medically-induced recession.

Since being stood down from work, I was not overly worried about my financial situation. For many years, I had consistently lived below my means and saved a significant proportion of my wages. With a frugal lifestyle of spending less and saving more, I was not only building an emergency fund but was also preparing for what these economic experts have said was going to come, but of course, I wished I had more already saved up resulting in bigger war chest. With that frugal lifestyle, on a fairly loose budget, I can survive for roughly 10 months without wages, and that budget could be easily tightened to stretch beyond 12 months.

On 30 March 2020, the Australian prime minister announced Australia’s biggest ever $130 billion stimulus package; a wage subsidy to help around 6 million workers which was passed in parliament on 8 April 2020. Called the JobKeeper payment, the government will pay $1500 fortnightly before-tax to every employee through their eligible employer starting on 1 May 2020. This was designed to keep stood down workers on the books to prevent mass redundancies for 6 months from their stand down in late March until the last payment on 27 September 2020. If my employer is eligible for this JobKeeper payment, I will receive this money. With my frugal lifestyle, each fortnightly payment after-tax could keep me housed and fed longer than a fortnight hence keep me surviving longer should a deep recession happen.

Coronavirus life in lockdown