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“I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture, but we can’t be Pollyanna-ish with the numbers that we’re facing and what people are dealing with and wrestling with. There’s no one living in New York City who does not know someone who has died. I have watched body bags come out of buildings across the street into ambulances. It is touching everywhere and everyone.” Amb. John Berry (ret.)

The American Australian Association (AAA) helped establish the United States Studies Centre and the two organisations have supported one another ever since. Last week continued that tradition. In a special webinar event, AAA President and former US Ambassador to Australia John Berry provided a perspective we needed to hear. He painted a vivid picture of his lived experience in New York during the pandemic.

The best of times? The nightly unifying cheer across the city to celebrate the frontline workers who are keeping the city going. The worst of times? The presence of death everywhere, visible in the body bags and refrigerator trucks being used as temporary mortuaries because there are not enough places to hold the bodies. 

In Australia, it is hard to comprehend what's happening. Not just as an island-nation on the other side of the world, but as we stay in our homes, we may feel distant from the suffering. Ambassador Berry’s firsthand account is a reminder that during this difficult time for so many, it is important to pay close attention to what we hear from those most affected.

This issue of The 45th is a closer look at New York, the city at the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis, with whom we have a special relationship. To view  Ambassador Berry's speech on New York, go to the video section below. To read The Guardian’s reflection on his words and the US-Australia relationship, click here.