As It Happens

As some Australians enter 6th lockdown, comedian wonders how she'll pay the rent

Australian comedian Anna Piper Scott is tired of cancelling shows. Scott is a performer in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, which entered its sixth lockdown on Thursday.

COVID cases are relatively low in Australia, but a slow vaccine rollout means health restrictions continue

A normally busy shopping area in Sydney, Australia, is nearly empty of people on July 7, 2021. Sydney's two-week lockdown has been extended for another week due to the vulnerability of an Australian population largely unvaccinated against COVID-19, officials said. (Rick Rycroft/The Associated Press)

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Australian comedian Anna Piper Scott is tired of cancelling shows. 

Scott is a performer in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, which entered its sixth lockdown on Thursday.

More than 60 per cent of Australia's 25 million citizens are in hard lockdowns as of Friday to try to contain a surge in the coronavirus's highly contagious delta variant. 

Snap lockdowns, strict border controls and swift contact tracing have helped Australia keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 35,600 cases and 933 deaths. But recent stop-and-start lockdowns amid a sluggish vaccination rollout, with only about 21 per cent of people over the age of 16 fully vaccinated, have frustrated residents.

Scott says she understands lockdowns are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, but she's frustrated with her country's slow vaccine rollout, and what she considered inadequate financial support for people who are out of work. 

If things continue like this, she worries won't have enough money to pay her rent and may have to leave comedy altogether. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Katie Simpson. 

Anna, can you believe that Melbourne is in its sixth lockdown now?

I think we just expected to be out and free for longer than a week. I think that's what kind of pulled the rug out from under people, that we barely got out before we were dragged back in again.

How are you doing?

Not great, I'll be honest. I'm feeling pretty abandoned by my government right now because I work as a comedian, I work as a performer, and I keep having gigs that are meant to pay my rent just get shut down, get snatched out from under me. Every time we're locked down, it's taken out my ability to pay my rent. And it's been very, very difficult. And there's been very little to no income support to cover that here in Australia.

I understand this is being described as a snap lockdown. 

There was a press conference at, I think, 4 p.m., and the lockdown hit at 8 p.m. So it was just very suddenly out of nowhere.

So you get four hours' notice of a lockdown. Specifically, what does that mean for you?

It meant the show that I was performing at 9:30 — so an hour and a half after the start of the lockdown — that show was cancelled. All those tickets are being reorganized by the venue to hopefully be free to perform that show at another date.

I kind of went to the shops to kind of stock up on a couple of things that would make me feel a little bit more comfortable. I think most people, like me, have a lockdown routine now.

It breaks my heart to hear you say the phrase "lockdown routine," because I guess when you go into six lockdowns, it's a reality.

In Melbourne, we've had a lot more lockdowns than other states, partly because we're a very popular state to visit and we've got a lot more movement, and also partly because of failures in other states' quarantine procedures.

So I think people in Sydney having their second lockdown, seeing them trying to figure it out, whereas we're just kind of, you know, kicking back and just being, like, "All right, let's do this." You know, crack the knuckles, get back into the routine. 

Health-care staff watch as workers construct a pop-up COVID-19 testing site in the carpark of a college in Melbourne on Thursday. Australia's second-largest city is in its sixth lockdown with a state government leader blaming the nation's slow vaccination rollout for the decision. (Daniel Pockett/AAP Image/The Associated Press)

You mentioned because of your job, because you are a stand-up comedian, when lockdown's in effect, you can't work. What does it mean for you? 

As a performer, I am effectively a small business, so my savings aren't just kind of a nice thing to have for saving for a holiday or whatever. My savings is capital for future investment. They are how I fund tours to other places and stuff like that. 

Each lockdown I've just been, like, depleting on that more than I would like. And it's getting a bit scary.

I think this lockdown, I'm going to get through. But lockdown seven or lockdown eight might be the ones that kind of push me to the point where I can't actually physically pay rent. And I'm very scared to get to that point.

Every time, it's just people constantly fighting for government support. And the very frustrating thing is that we have a very left-leaning government at the state level, and they're the ones that control when lockdowns happen and control how to manage the quarantine at the state level. But we have a right-leaning federal government, and that government is the one that's in charge of providing welfare and government support and business insurance and all that, and it seems very disinterested in doing those things.

How stressful is it worrying about whether you're going to be able to pay your rent or not?

I'm really in a bind because I've been doing comedy here in Australia for close to a decade. It's very hard to transition into any other kind of career, especially in the middle of a pandemic, when there aren't any jobs. 

So at the same time, I don't know how viable this career is going to be for the foreseeable future. So I don't know where else I would be able to get money from. But I also feel like I can't keep getting money from where I've been getting it. And that's terrifying.

If the government isn't providing direct support, it'd be nice if they were even doing some kind of indirect support, by making it easier to find jobs and kind of to nourish the job market as a whole.

Protesters rally against a lockdown to curb the spread of an outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Melbourne on Thursday. Comedian Anna Piper Scott says she's not against lockdowns, but believes there should be more government support for people who can't work from home. (Daniel Pockett/Reuters)

If you take a step back and look at the last year and a half, Australia has avoided the large numbers that you've seen in the United States, that you've seen here in Canada. And there have been aggressive measures to mitigate that.… Do you think Australia took the right approach here?

I think the big problem here in Australia was not having the lockdowns and having those extreme measures in order to prevent COVID getting a foothold. Our problem here was that we did not do what every other country did, which was take vaccines seriously and realize that vaccines were the end, finally, to all of this.

Scott Morrison, being the prime minister, didn't order enough vaccines. He didn't roll out the vaccines properly. There's been a lot of confusing messaging here in Australia about which groups of people are eligible for the vaccines and when they can get it. And there has been, like, public disagreement between Australian medical authorities and the prime minister.

And all of that means that's why we're going to be stuck with this for a long time, and it means that we're at a point where it's either keep locking down until we can get vaccinated, which might be halfway through next year, or have COVID explode like it did everywhere else and have the last year and a half before nothing. And both of those are pretty bleak outcomes.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for lengh and clarity. 

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