HOWARD SPRINGS, Australia — On Day 8 of my two-week stay at Australia’s only remote, dedicated facility for Covid quarantine, I called my 11-year-old daughter at home in Sydney to ask how her day at school had gone. All I heard was a long pause.
“Dad,” she said. “It’s Saturday.”
I looked out the window as if my confusion could be cleared by the brown all around me — the single-story metal lodging, the pathways, the bags of food that had just been dropped off by workers in face shields. It was not yet 5 p.m. and they were delivering dinner?
Such is life in a former mining camp near the northern tip of the country, in a place called Howard Springs — a temporary home for hundreds of domestic and international travelers being forced to wait around long enough to prove they’re Covid-free.
Quarantine has been a physical and temporal in-between ever since the first lazarettos were set up to fight the Black Death in medieval Europe. The practice, as Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley write in their fascinating new book “Until Proven Safe,” is both a medical tool and “an usually poetic metaphor for any number of moral, ethical and religious ills: It is a period of waiting to see if something hidden within you will be revealed.”
My experience exposed more than I expected, about human nature but also about the ways that the pandemic keeps pushing countries back into their own peculiar currents of national identity. In the United States, it’s individualism. In Australia, it’s the collectivist urge to protect the many by treating the few as a potential threat, sometimes at
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