The room settled after the Covid mascot’s departure, and Stan returned to his notes. “Right then,” he said. “So, as you have just heard, we are extending the lockdown by two weeks. I want to be clear: this decision was not made lightly, or arbitrarily, or as part of a bet, but this decision was made with one aim in mind, and that is, uh… that is…” Stan checked his notes. “Ah, yes—public safety. I am committed to public safety. At any cost. By any means. If I were not committed to public safety, would I have invested five hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to hire one of this nation’s leading medical experts as our chief health advisor? Of course not. In fact, I have pledged to continue paying Doctor Faulkner half a million dollars a year until such time as he deems Covid to no longer be a serious public danger. I spoke to him last night, and he informed me that, according to his expert analysis, Covid is still a grave danger.”
A few reporters in red shirts nodded and sighed in relief.
“But it is not all bad news,” continued Stan. “As I have said since the beginning of this pandemic, Obedience will be rewarded. And for those who have followed the state guidelines, I will be granting new freedoms. As of Monday, all fully vaccinated people who like at least three of my tweets will be granted extended family visitation privileges. For one hour, twice week, those individuals will be allowed to travel up to seven kilometres to visit immediate family who can provide a recent negative Covid test!” Stan paused for what he expected would be a standing ovation. Only Wendy, sitting in the front row, applauded. Stan grumbled and checked his notes. “Now, I understand the limited family interaction has been difficult on some, especially the elderly, and single people, so I would encourage everyone to avail themselves of our state ‘Health Safety Net’ measures if they feel the need. There is the suicide prevention line—that’s a free call, by the way. The government website has a new aquarium background which is nice to look at. The fish move and everything. And of course, if people are craving human contact, brothels are still open twenty-four-seven.
“On the subject of business, from next week, some more businesses will be reopening. Nail salons will be open for appointments only. Auto mechanic shops can operate Mondays, Wednesdays and every second Thursday, but businesses specialising in tyre fitting and wheel alignments will remain closed. Movie theatres will be reopening, with limited seating and within prescribed health parameters. Just quickly I’ll go through those. Let’s see… Vaccinated people may attend a movie in groups of up to five during the day, or in groups of up to four if the movie commences after six pm. Groups above the permitted limit must split into pairs and sit at least two rows apart, or six seats apart in the same row. Food can be consumed, but not shared, unless you are sharing with an immediate family member from the same household, or a nominated sexual partner. For movies with a running time of under a hundred and twenty minutes, masks only need to be worn while entering and leaving the theatre, but during the movie you may remove your mask. For films running over a hundred and twenty minutes, patrons may go maskless entering and leaving the theatre, but will be required to keep their masks on for the duration of the movie. Vaccinated couples who wish to make out during a movie may remove their masks, but unvaccinated couples must keep their masks on. Romantic relationships between vaccinated and unvaccinated people are, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, strictly prohibited. Anyway, you can view those details on the government website. It’s all pretty straightforward.
A bell rang.
“Oh-ho!” cried Stan, eyes wide with anticipation. “We know what that sound means, don’t we?”
Excited whispers and mocking groans circulated the audience. A woman in a sparkling gown and too much makeup minced onstage pushing a large bingo cage on wheels.
“Thank you, Stacey,” said Stan.
The woman in the gown bowed and waved her hands about, then glided offstage. Stan grabbed the cage handle and began to turn it. The hundred bingo balls in the cage churned and chattered.
“That’s right,” said Stan, “it’s time for Occupation Bingo! Who would like to draw out the lucky ball today?” Hands shot up in the audience. “Hmm, let me see. How about… Wendy!”
Wendy jumped up with a huge smile.
“Aww!” groaned a reporter from the back. “Wendy always gets to do it.”
Stan ignored the protest and held Wendy’s hand to usher up in front of everyone. “Well Wendy, you know what to do.” He stopped turning the cage and opened the hatch. Wendy reached a slender hand inside, grabbed a white plastic ball and drew it out from the cage. “What occupation is it this week, Wendy?”
Wendy read the word written on the ball, then announced in a loud voice, “Librarians.”
A few of the reporters in red shirts clapped and nodded. Wendy waved, then went and sat back down in the front row.
“Well, there you have it,” said Stan. “All librarians have until the end of next week to get their Covid vaccination, or they will forfeit their jobs. Great news for book lovers, I think we can agree. Our state’s libraries are about to get a lot safer. Well, that about covers it. I’ll now take questions.”
Every reporter raised a hand and called to Stan. Stan smiled and savoured the moment.
© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED