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Australia is in the grip of another Covid wave, with Omicron driving a new surge of infections and hospitalisations.

But unlike previous years, governments have largely resisted bringing in mask mandates or restrictions on hospitality and other public venues, leaving people to navigate the pandemic without strict rules.

To get a picture of how the country is living, we spoke to six Australians about pandemic burnout and which regulations they are still following.

Leanne, 46, Vic

Leanne has had three doses of the vaccine and caught the virus once. At this stage, she is not letting the pandemic stop her from doing anything.

“I’m not being cautious about contracting Covid. I don’t see it as being as serious as the health organisations are making it out to be,” Leanne says.

She was recently a passenger onboard the P&O Pacific Explorer, which had a Covid outbreak, but she says as the virus is everywhere, she does not want it to stop her “enjoying getting out and about”.

“My family have done most of our travelling during Covid. I enjoy having something to look forward to and haven’t been concerned about contracting Covid,” she says.

“Crowds don’t faze me, I think the public naturally space themselves out now which is a good thing.”

As she works in disability, Leanne wears a mask at her job, and thinks during winter, they should be worn out of the house in public to help bring cases down.

She says she is “absolutely” sick of Covid but wants to continue travelling and making memories with her family.

“All in all, I will continue to travel as much as I can, providing I can get the time off work, will continue to cruise – I have another four cruises booked and am researching a further cruise.”

Karen Sorensen, 63 and Ken McLeod, 74, retired, NSW

Karen Sorensen and Ken McLeod
‘People don’t really understand if you’ve got an elderly relative or an immunocompromised, you’re still as frightened as you were in the beginning’ … Karen Sorensen and Ken McLeod. Photograph: Karen Sorensen and Ken McLeod

Karen and Ken are both cautious – they follow the rules, wear masks, avoid crowds and when eating out, they do it in off-peak times.

“We both follow rules. We’re vulnerable ourselves – I’m in my 70s, our friends are in that age group,” Ken says.

Ken says he was concerned about the lack of mask-wearing, disappointed to see more people in Sydney weren’t putting them on in crowds and annoyed at the government for not mandating them.

“We’re a little disappointed in government responses. At the beginning of the pandemic, all governments says they would follow the chief health officers’ advice, and they are not doing it.”

He is also concerned about the daily death toll from Covid. “If that happened in an alpine crash there would be heads rolling, a royal commission, grandstanding in parliament. There’s a Covid fatigue.”

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Karen’s parents haven’t left the house since November last year, as her father is in palliative care.

“I think the perspective has changed. People think I’ve had my immunisations, or I’ve had Covid, if I catch it again I catch it again, without thinking about the people who still need protection,” she says.

“People don’t really understand if you’ve got an elderly relative or an immunocompromised, you’re still as frightened as you were in the beginning.”

Elly Bruin, 32, barista, Melbourne

Elly Bruin
‘It is just that feeling of Covid fatigue; it’s another year of it happening’ … Elly Bruin Photograph: Elly Bruin

Bruin has stopped reading the news as it makes her too anxious. The barista wears a mask in crowded places, on public transport and indoors – but tries not to think about Covid.

“It is just that feeling of Covid fatigue; it’s another year of it happening,” she says.

“I tend to stay at home a lot, but that reflects my pre-pandemic life. I’m doing the things of wearing a mask on public transport and being respectful in that setting but I think I am just living my life as normal.

“It hasn’t stopped me from doing anything. I have booked a bunch of tickets to the film festival in August and I am going away, so there’s this part of me that worries I will get Covid.”

Professor Mike Toole, epidemiologist, 75, Melbourne

Mike Toole
‘We need leadership, clarity’ … Mike Toole Photograph: Mike Toole

Toole describes his lifestyle as like he is living in 2020.

“I’d say, it’s not much different from during lockdowns,” he says. “The difference is about once a month I go to the local pub and I sit out in the courtyard. I wear a mask when I got to buy a drink.”

Apart from the pub, Toole does not eat out and wears a mask when he goes shopping.

“The local supermarket has a smaller butcher – today I peeked in the windows there was no one there so I didn’t wear a mask in, but at the supermarket I did.”

Toole has been overseas twice this year but says with the current wave he would not go to an airport.

“It’s probably one of the most dangerous places to be: no windows, people standing in line, not everyone wearing a mask.”

He says there needs to be clear messaging for politicians: masks need to be worn by everyone and if people can, they should get their fourth jab.

“I think there’s just a lot of confusion at the moment. We’re getting different messages from the CHO, from politicians.

“I don’t know how to change the level of fatigue. We need leadership, clarity.”

Mia* 27, nurse, Melbourne

Mia, who asked not to use her real name as nurses are not allowed to speak to the media, says they feel guilty if they even go to a gig.

“I am being really mindful, not doing a lot of social stuff; I find the social stuff I do comes with guilt,” Mia says.

For them, avoiding Covid also means looking after their patients and keeping their colleagues safe.

“We are getting more and more Covid patients in the hospital every day. It takes such a toll.”

Mia says if they are hanging out with mates, they would discuss mask-wearing first, and if it is a bigger event they would do a rapid antigen test beforehand.

“A lot of people I know have gotten Covid in the past few weeks,” Mia says. “People are getting reinfections. So we’re definitely being mindful of it.

“I don’t love talking about it all the time; when you work in it, it gets exhausting.”

Being on the frontline in 2020 was different. There were countless articles about health care workers, and heaps of appreciation – but now, Mia says it’s lonely.

“It feels really isolating, because everyone wants to get on with their lives,” they say.

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