Melbourne’s Stage Four Lockdown

Over 60 days of the strictest social distancing restrictions in the world in Melbourne, Australia.

Melbourne is Australia’s second most populated city, culturally comparable to San Francisco in the early 1990’s, and commonly overlooked by the tourists who crowd Sydney’s Harbor and Opera House, but Melbourne is the diamond in the rough. The city’s vibrant laneways filled with live music all summer, change venues without skipping a beat to fireplaces in homes, bars, and backyards during the colder months. The winters are dark, cold, wet, and for three months Melbourne bears a striking resembles to Gotham City, but this winter persona is a façade. Behind the closed doors of the lifeless, empty looking buildings, jackets are stripped off and dancefloors full because nothing keeps Melbournians from socializing; nothing except the strictest pandemic lockdown in the (present) world.

The reaction from the Australian government hasn’t been flawless, and it’s a bit too much to ask for a perfect pandemic performance but compared to similar countries Australia has excelled in testing, tracing, and isolating Covid. Unfortunately, a few mistakes and bad luck, gave the very contagious virus the upper hand in Melbourne. As it quietly infected hundreds and travelled to rural areas of Victoria, Australians were celebrating the virus’ defeat, but on the 2nd of August Melbourne was dealt a heavy blow. The only city in Australia to lose control of the virus with infection rates nearing 1,000, was shut down as the rest of the country was returning to normalcy.

In June there was a total of roughly 8,000 cases in Australia, but in less than three months this has more than tripled. Most of the 20,000 new infections have been in or around Melbourne, prompting the Victorian state government to impose stage four restrictions in the city, and stage three in rural Victoria. Shutdown again, but with stricter guidelines, stage four demanded non-essential workers stay home, wearing facemasks in public, a curfew from 8pm to 5am, no more than one hour of outdoor exercise per day, a ban on traveling more than five kilometres, only leaving home for the essentials like food, medications, etc., and social distancing like life depended on it for six weeks. When the light at the end of the sixth week tunnel was in sight, a two-week extension was announced, and six turned into eight weeks. As the eighth week approached, new cases were below thirty for three consecutive days, and stage four was reduced to stage three. It’s been a long, dark, bumpy road, but nearing the end of the ninth week, cases were in the single digits.

Whilst the rest of Australia returned to team sports, attended parties, ate at restaurants, shared drinks at bars, and enjoyed the socializing previously taken for granted, we stare at the white walls of our old Victorian homes with the overwhelming desire to live. Most Melbournians know someone who has died, contracted, and/or has been exposed to Covid. The rollercoaster of emotions has been intense, and the stages of grief have been at our own pace because we have had nothing but time. Most of us linger between anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, and uncertainty, but as restrictions ease the grief only grows. Awaking from the winter and lockdown hibernation, we begin to witness the death of the small businesses we cherish because the federal government failed to support them.

A bad meal or coffee in Melbourne was almost impossible. The city is globally renowned for the numerous, exceptionally diverse restaurants and cafes, but after lockdown their survival doesn’t look promising. Over 98% of businesses in Australia are small to medium sized, yet the federal government proposes an oil and gas recovery and hasn’t offered additional support for Melbourne’s extended hardship. The mental health battle during the rigorous social distancing restrictions has been challenging, but seeing our city boarded up, riddled with unemployment, and increasing homelessness will be the nail in the coffin. The restrictions and government’s control of our lives has been an emotional process, but as we wake from our slumber to a city indefinitely closed, a new stage of grief plagues us.

Following orders has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. This is a magnificent feat, and we’re heroes, but we don’t feel like heroes. Those of us still employed have been financially supporting the local eateries and shops as much as possible, but it’s not enough to keep them afloat. As the human death toll shrinks, the toll on businesses explode, and the fear of American style monopolies owning everything is a constant worry, but faith in the creativity and ingenuity of Melbournians offers some hope. I just hope we still have a fight left in us.

Is this the world you would have created?

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