It’s been five weeks since NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the city would enter a short (one week, at the time) lockdown to curb the spread of a more infectious strain of coronavirus. Sydney’s restaurants, bars and cafes were quick to adapt, rerunning takeaway menus they’d offered in 2020 or finding new, inventive ways to offer their services. Fitness coaches upgraded their Zoom accounts. Bookshops dropped local delivery fees. Cinemas reopened their at-home streaming services. There was a familiarity to it, but also a sense of division.
Broadsheet photographers Yusuke Oba and Jiwon Kim ventured out to snap empty city streets, busy coastal paths and shuttered hospitality venues. Here’s what they discovered.
“Compared to the last lockdown, there were definitely a lot more people out and about in the city, many without masks,” says Yusuke Oba.
“Last year I sensed a feeling of unity, this time I sensed frustration ... It’s more chaotic in some ways.”
Jiwon Kim photographed Sydney’s first lockdown in 2020. She says, “Three weeks into our first lockdown, I photographed the empty streets of our city. How are we back here, again?
“Yet somehow, I’m back on the streets of our CBD and it’s clear there’s no business happening here. Masks are dancing through the air, the cold winter’s breeze whooshing between the empty buildings.
“The bustling sounds of a city have been diverted to the suburbs for now. Without many reasons to legitimately leave our homes, it seems we have congregated around our suburban cafes and walkways. The feelings of frustration and helplessness are unmistakable.”
One cafe-goer told Kim: “This is my 30 minutes of the day where I reclaim my sanity.” Another asks if it’ll ever end and a cafe worker sums it up with: “We made it through the first lockdown, just. This one is tough. We’re already weary and beaten down. I just don’t know if we can survive.”
Of course, this lockdown is unlike the last in many ways. We’re not equally impacted by the state’s restrictions even in one city. Eight local government areas are facing four more weeks of limited movement; construction work is set to resume outside those areas from this weekend; and we’re more reliant on essential workers than ever. “We’re all in this together” doesn't sound right in 2021, but we’re all the more grateful for those who help keep us safe and connected. Check in with your friends, shop locally, go easy on yourself, stay home and see you on the other side.