How Melbourne’s ‘short and sharp’ Covid lockdowns became the longest in the world | Melbourne
IIt has been a long 19 month period in Melbourne. As of Tuesday, October 5, Australia’s second-largest city will have been stranded for 246 days – overtaking Buenos Aires as the city that has spent the most cumulative days under stay-at-home orders.
By the time Melbourne’s current lockdown lifts at the end of the month, it will have spent 267 days in lockdown – 45% of the time since the coronavirus pandemic was declared on March 12, 2020.
It is a strategy that has left the city in an economic and psychological depression, but it has also succeeded, five times in a row, in reducing the number of cases to zero.
But during Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews officially gave up hope of reaching zero daily cases, replacing it with a target of at least 80% of Victorians over 16 being doubly vaccinated.
The lockdown will be lifted once the vaccination rate reaches 70%, expected around October 26. Support for the Victorian government’s handling of the pandemic is waning. Last week’s Essential poll for Guardian Australia found that Andrews government’s approval had fallen to 44%.
Compliance with strict restrictions is also on the decline. Parties over the weekend of the AFL Grand Final – which was moved from Melbourne to the still covid-free city of Perth – resulted in a 50% increase in cases on Thursday, for a record daily figure 1,438. On Friday, 1,143 more cases were recorded, as the prime minister extended vaccination mandates to more than one million workers.
Talk to the Melburnians and the overwhelming majority say they support the Andrews government’s decision to lock down hard at the first sign of an outbreak.
But opposition to health measures, although still in the minority, is growing and bursting into the streets. Five thousand people joined a violent omnibus demonstration last week, fueled by far-right figures. The protests began outside the offices of the construction industry union on Monday and roamed the city on Tuesday before ending Wednesday at the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to Australian soldiers.
They rallied around vaccination mandates, a two-week construction halt and lockdown in general. There have been hundreds of arrests and warnings of a super-spreader event, with union staff responding to protesters sent to quarantine.
The protests rocked a city that was already breathless, then was literally rocked by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake.
Victoria’s Director of Health, Professor Brett Sutton, joked on twitter: “More horses from the apocalypse, please”. The city has had enough.
The earthquake – which knocked down a half-wall on Chapel Street – turned out to be a relatively harmless distraction from an endless cycle of bad news, says Celeste Liddle, a Melbourne-based writer and political candidate for the Greens.
âI feel like there are a lot of people struggling, but mental health is sort of seen only as a weapon to be used against the government rather than a reality of endless blockages and the impact that social isolation can have. â
The Arrernte woman has lived in Melbourne for over 30 years. It has always been a bustling city, the only truly 24 hour city in Australia.
âWe often make fun of Sydney because, for a city even bigger than Melbourne, there isn’t that much to do,â she says. âI wonder if this miserable lifestyle outside all year round, even when the weather is miserable, Melbourne will resume. I’m a little worried that after that, after many businesses closed, a once vibrant city would be dead for a few years. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild.
Melbourne’s thriving arts sector is the hardest hit and least supported industry since the start of the pandemic.
Kyran Wheatley was preparing to open a comedy club when Melbourne was first locked down in March 2020. It opened for a weekend in July before returning to a hard lockdown.
The entertainment venues have been given a provisional reopening date of Nov. 8 by the Victorian government, on condition that they limit crowds to one person per four square meters. It’s not enough customers to be viable, says Wheatley. He also fears people will be less enthusiastic about getting out if the city reopens with thousands of cases a day, rather than zero.
“It’s the big uncertainty right now, not knowing how the city will react to the presence of Covid in everything around you,” he said.
If he had known the town would be locked up for two years, says Wheatley, he would not have opened the club. But despite the setbacks, he supports confinement.
âThe reason we’ve been confined for so long is that we care if people die,â he says. “It’s just us who choose to protect life – at a huge expense, a huge expense, but for, like [Australian rapper] Briggs says, protect Nan.
Australia has grown accustomed to avoiding the worst impacts of a global disaster. But expecting to get through a global pandemic unscathed is unrealistic – and something that has only been achieved by Australia’s most remote city.
âIf our expectation is that we all live in Perth where nothing changes, then move to Perth,â says Wheatley.
The current outbreak began when the Delta variant moved to Melbourne from Sydney in July, fueling already strained interstate relations between New South Wales and Victoria. July 15 Andrews announced the fifth confinement (which almost immediately became the sixth) saying, “These cases started in NSW, but I’m determined they will end here.”
He spoke with the optimism of past victories – Victoria had already canceled two outbreaks with instant locks this winter and reduced the number of cases to zero following a grueling 112-day hard lock last year.
But this time the numbers just keep on rising.
A failed federal deployment, followed by a decision to divert available doses from Pfizer to Sydney, which had been on hold since June, have been blamed for an initially slow start to the vaccine rollout in Victoria, which accelerated in August.
The number of cases in New South Wales began to stabilize in mid-September, as the vaccination rate increased. The numbers in Melbourne are expected to follow suit, but Andrews made it clear to the Victorians on Thursday that they would have met those targets sooner if doses of mRNA vaccines had been made available sooner.
Andrews also criticized the Victorians for breaking lockdown restrictions when the end is in sight.
He told reporters on Thursday, reporting the highest daily figure on record, that “many of these cases were completely preventable.”
“Don’t do [healthcare workerâs] working harder by making really bad choices and going to visit friends, friends and family and taking the virus with us, âhe said.