COVID effects and technological inequality

by | 2 Mar,2021

Helen  Gael, Queensland Regional Meeting

The most obvious effect of COVIDovid on Friends’ Meeting was the initial lockdown – no Meeting at all for some weeks, just phone and email for any contact. Queensland Regional Meeting, like most other Regional Meetings, fairly quickly offered Zoom as a means for individual Friends to join in Meeting for Worship and small group discussions from their own homes. Later, when Friends began meeting in person once more in the Meeting House, the screen and computer equipment in the Meeting House was updated to allow Friends to see and hear those in the Meeting House so they could worship together and join after Meeting events even if they lived far away or had transport or health difficulties. The option of Zoom meetings provided some comfort for some people, but not for those without computers, or not adept at setting up Zoom. Technology has its benefits but in many ways can widen the inequality gap, often with regard to age. In Queensland, it has been remarkable how many of our older members overcame their fear of new technologies to join Zoom meetings and quickly realised its usefulness in connecting with family members in another state or country. Of course, a Zoom Meeting does not provide the same feeling of unity as Meeting in person. Clerking a Meeting for Worship for Business with Zoom as well as face-to-face participants provides an added challenge to identifying the “sense of the Meeting”. A recent Queensland Baha’i Day of Interfaith Harmony – attended via Zoom by some members of Brisbane Meeting – highlighted issues that were relevant to Quakers as well as others. Several speakers – from Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Sikh, Hindu, Pagan faiths – related ways the pandemic has affected all of us. One mentioned that we focused on people who were previously largely ignored – cleaners, drivers, undertakers, nurses – and gave them more importance and respect. There was also emphasis by all on how much the community came together to help those in need. In summary, they all said that a crisis brings us together. Certainly, in Brisbane, Friends have rallied to ensure all COVID restrictions are met with Friends rostered to cover all the requisite safety advice: maintaining a record of all who arrive; marking out the spacing for chairs (a joint Premises Committee-Eldering activity); rostering one person for kitchen duties to boil water and offer DIY morning teas with disposable cups for those who do not bring their own. There has been a sense of “knuckling down together”, both for those tasked with specific COVID-safe responsibilities and those newcomers and old hands who attend. One Friend who lived through wartime Britain drew parallels with that time in the sense of feeling threatened and needing to lockdown for safety, while in no way suggesting that this equates to the level of threat the UK experienced. With the approval of vaccines for COVID, most Friends in Australia are likely to be vaccinated reasonably early in the rollout thanks to our largely older and mainly European worshipping community. However, some health observers are suggesting that the focus on COVID vaccines may pose a threat to other health programs. The World Health Organization and UNICEF warned In July 2020 of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world. This is due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunisation services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines
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