The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Besha Rodell, a columnist for the Australia bureau.

The clink of glasses, the whir of an espresso machine, the laughter of other patrons, the banter of a pub owner — I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed these things. The ability to forgo the midafternoon conversation with my husband: What should we make for dinner? No dishes to do!

I have always loved restaurants, but the last few months have shown me — along with most of the world — what life would be like without them. And I realized, along with all the things I already knew, how much restaurants act as a respite from the grind of daily life.

Dining out is also my job. What does a restaurant critic do when there are no restaurants? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot over the past three months, in private and in public.

In April, it was a topic I discussed with my American colleagues — the Times’ chief restaurant critic, Pete Wells; the California restaurant critic, Tejal Rao; and Sam Sifton, a Times assistant managing editor — as part of the ongoing TimesTalks series in which journalists from around the company discuss their work on a call that readers are invited to join.

All three of us critics have continued to cover our beats in various ways. I wrote about the halal snack pack, which — thanks to its takeaway format, comfort and status as a symbol of multiculturalism — seems like the perfect dish for this moment in history. Tejal has been reporting on myriad aspects of the industry, covering the rise in home delivery from small farms, restaurants stepping up to feed protesters, and, this week, the dissonance between fast-food companies’ messages of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the way those same companies treat their black employees. Pete has written longingly about the restaurant dishes and experiences he misses the most.

One of the most interesting parts of that conversation with my colleagues was the moral conundrum of whether it would be responsible to dine out again when restaurants finally reopened. In the U.S., where many states are now allowing venues to reopen, that is a very tricky question. The virus is still rampant. Many workers are without health insurance but are also desperate for work — the decision to go back to cooking or waiting tables is often a choice between health and livelihood. Is it responsible to encourage a scenario that seems inherently exploitative? (Tejal wrote about this beautifully in the context of takeout food.)

Here in Australia, that conundrum barely exists. Our Covid-19 numbers are comparatively minuscule. Health care and testing are available to anyone who does become ill. And, while far from perfect, wages and labor conditions in Australia are far more equitable for hospitality workers.

And so, last week, when I was finally able to experience dining out again, I had zero qualms. Victorian restaurants are open, with many safety guards in place: hand sanitation, time limits and restrictions on numbers of guests, QR codes that take you to websites where you enter your contact details so guests can be traced in the event of a virus breakout. These things gave me comfort rather than pause. I was thrilled to be out, so much so that after my initial foray into dining — at a local pub — I found myself out again for breakfast the next morning.

(I spoke to the BBC about these experiences this week for their podcast The Food Chain — my part of the show begins at around the 19-minute mark.)

The next afternoon, my husband and I were on our way to the grocery store when we saw that the Carlton Wine Room, one of my favorite restaurants in Melbourne, was open for business. We stopped in for a glass of wine, an act that might have seemed standard a few months ago but now feels like the most indulgent luxury. As part of the current government rules, we had to order food with our wine, but that was just a bonus. As we sat in the light-filled room, munching on fried bread with anchovy, we looked at each other and sighed.

“I love it here,” my husband said. “This place is amazing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Have you been out to eat, in Australia or elsewhere, in recent weeks? What was the experience like? Let us know at

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Here are the stories for this week.

Credit…Richard Wainwright/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • New Zealand Reports No New Active Coronavirus Cases. New Zealanders will be able to gather again after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that there were no new active coronavirus cases, making it one of only a few nations that appear to have eradicated the virus.

Credit…Ted S. Warren/Associated Press