As countries across the globe grapple with the prospect of renewed lockdowns, the Australian city of Melbourne offers a stark lesson on the costs of bringing the coronavirus under regulate.
The city of 5 million people on Wednesday emerged from some of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns that shuttered businesses and confined residents to their homes for more than three months.
While infections have dropped from a day-to-day peak of approximately 700 in early August to just two new cases on Wednesday, the economic and social have an effect on of Melbourne’s second lockdown since the crisis began has been huge. Australia’s government estimates 1,200 jobs have been missing on average a day across Victoria state, while demand for mental health services and products has surged by more than 30%.
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Despite key factors working in Melbourne’s favor, including closed borders, an infection count that used to be tiny by international standards, and a state government with strong public backing, it still took twice so long as anticipated to crush the curve.
It’s a bleak reality confronting political leaders, especially in Europe, who have already experienced the damage wrought by full-blown lockdowns and are now weighing options to fight a resurgence of the pandemic.
Australia used to be in the leading edge of nations that had early success in controlling community transmission. Its first nationwide lockdown, which lasted kind of from March to May, reduced the number of cases to just a handful a day.
But security failures at quarantine hotels for returning out of the country travellers, naughty communication of critical information to migrant communities and insufficient contact tracing allowed the virus to roar back in Victoria.
On July 7, state Premier Daniel Andrews announced a six-week lockdown, ordering Melbourne residents to stay home excluding for fundamental work and services and products, medical remedy, school or an hour’s exercise a day. Less than a month later, as cases continued to rise, the restrictions were extended across all of the state, Melbourne used to be placed under a midnight curfew, schools were closed and large parts of retail, manufacturing and hospitality were shut down.
With Victoria accounting for approximately a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product, the restrictions have deepened Australia’s first recession in nearly 30 years.
The lockdown has slashed A$100 million ($71 million) a day from economic activity and through August and September resulted in a day-to-day average of 1,200 jobs being missing across the state, Luke Yeaman, a Treasury branch official, told a parliamentary panel this week.
Trade leaders say it is going to take years for Melbourne — ranked as the world’s second-most livable city final year — to get well. Melbourne chef Scott Pickett warned that ongoing capacity restrictions would continue to hit restaurants and cafes and that many would fold once government wage subsidies end early next year.
“Some may get to Christmas, January and say they may be able to’t do this anymore,” said Pickett, who owns the bistro Estelle. “It’s going to be a massacre available in the market at some stage.”
“This is the beginning of a long Road of recovery,” said Michael Madrusan, co-owner of Made in the Shade, which operates venues in the city including The Everleigh cocktail bar. “We are in no way out of the woods just because we will be able to open the doors.”
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The social costs are also mounting. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says demand for health services and products nationwide has risen 15% since early March, and by 31% between September and October in Victoria. Alcohol consumption has risen and domestic violence spiked.
“Only being allowed out of doors for an hour a day used to be terrible,” said Tessa Patrao, 27, who is in spite of everything back at work as a primary school teacher after the 112-day stay-at-home order. The second one lockdown used to be even harder than the first, especially as much of the country had returned to normal, she said.
While governments in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany have faced protests against second lockdowns, Victorians have been in large part compliant. That’s in part down to the popularity of the state’s Labor government, which won the 2018 election by a landslide, and the high approval ratings of Premier Andrews. The carrot-and-stick approach taken by authorities has also helped, with A$1,500 payments for people who couldn’t come up with the money for to self-isolate and court-imposed fines of as much as A$20,000 for repeat breaches of isolation orders.
“It would’ve been not possible to meaningfully police whether there wasn’t community improve,” said Terry Slevin, chief executive officer of the Public Health Organization of Australia. “It’s an example where a compact between a government and a community that’s been driven by expert advice has achieved a valuable public health outcome.”
According to Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University in Melbourne, it’s likely too late for the United Kingdom, US and European countries to replicate Melbourne’s success in crushing new infections. Instead, authorities would likely opt for 2-3 week circuit breaker lockdowns to take the load off the public health system.
“A circuit-breaker just might help bring it back into line and make allowance it to be containable,” she said. “But unless you’ve gone very early” it’s very tough to cause new cases down to zero.
The lockdown may have quashed the virus for now, but it’s lucid from outbreaks world wide that it can come back with a vengeance whether not coupled with ongoing requirements such as mask-wearing, social distancing, temperature checks and a robust testing and contact-tracing regime. Such “living with the virus” elements are in place in countries such as Korea, Japan and China, which were in a position to retain their cases under regulate.
“Australians want to have the conversation on what the new normal looks like so we will be able to live alongside this virus without more lockdowns,” said Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Trade Council of Australia. “Whether mask-wearing and hand sanitizers are the new normal now, is everyone on board? The big question is if individual Australians are in a position to fully adjust their lives to the Covid era.”