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How a four-month lockdown in Melbourne crushed a Covid-19 surge

Strict Covid-19 restrictions have just been lifted in Melbourne.

AUSTRALIA’S SECOND LARGEST city has come out of a four-month lockdown.

The Covid-19 restrictions aimed not just to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, but squash them down to less than an average of five Covid-19 cases linked to community transmission over 14 days. 

Melbourne and the surrounding state of Victoria have been the epicentre of Australia’s second wave – the state’s outbreak peaked at more than 700 daily cases in late July.

Though this might not sound like a lot, cases and deaths in Victoria have made up the bulk of Australia’s total; more than 90% of Australia’s total Covid-19 death toll of 905 are from that state.

As a result, the state of Victoria and Melbourne’s population of 5 million has remained under a lockdown that has cut them off from the rest of the country, which has returned to a type of normality.

But after a four-month strict lockdown and a “double doughnut” – what locals have nicknamed two days of no new coronavirus cases or deaths – a stay-at-home and the forced closures of non-essential business end at midnight in Australia (1pm Irish time).

Across the state of Victoria, there are now just 87 active coronavirus cases and five people in hospital with the virus. There is now an average of 0.2 cases over a 14-day average in Victoria, and 2.8 in the metropolitan Melbourne area.

Cases Melbourne Source: DHHS.vic.gov.au

Here’s how it was done, and a bit about the strategy Melbourne was pursuing.

How did things get so bad in Melbourne?

The spread of Covid-19 in Victoria was sparked when the virus leaked into the community from Melbourne hotels used to quarantine travellers from overseas.

This is said to have been caused due to rules not being adhered to strictly enough. 

The virus also entered Victoria’s care homes, with more than 100 residents dying since early August and almost 2,000 active infections linked to the facilities – active cases currently in care homes have been brought down to three in total.

On Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Service’s Covid-19 page, it provides a list of where individual cases were when they are thought to have contracted Covid-19. The latest all relate to travel on trains

The government said that protective equipment in high-risk workplaces, mandatory masks in public and physical distancing was key to their reopening strategy.

What were the restrictions?

Initially, Melbourne was only meant to stay in lockdown for six weeks – the same amount of time that Ireland’s Level 5 is to be in place.

Although the Melbourne lockdown began in early July, in early August tougher restrictions were brought in where residents were only allowed to travel within their 5km; one hour of exercise a day; to travel to buy food; or to travel for work if their business is deemed essential (apart from the time limit on exercise, this is similar to Ireland’s Level 5). 

Other restrictions included an overnight curfew, and advice against visiting or meeting with other households.

These were introduced in August, and due to end on 12 September, but were extended to eradicate the virus further on 6 September. There were 63 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths recorded that day. 

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said: “If we open up too fast then we have a very high likelihood that we are not really opening up at all – we are just beginning a third wave.”

daniel-andrews-covid19-presser Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews departs after a press conference in Melbourne. Sunday 25 October. Source: AAP/PA Images

Most of the measures were extended again until the 26 October, but some of the toughest restrictions were lifted on 13 September: the overnight curfew was stretched to an hour later at 9pm, daily exercise was increased to two hours and small social bubbles were created for people who live alone.

As of now (just past midnight in Australia), Melbourne has eased its restrictions to:

  • People can freely leave their homes for the first time in months, but are subjected to a 25km limit
  • Retail stores, restaurants, cafes and bars can reopen with a group limit of 10. 
  • Outdoor gatherings of 10 people can take place, which includes weddings, while funerals can have up to 20 mourners.
  • Beauty salons and retail stores will also be permitted to open, but gyms will be forced to wait until 8 November.

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Restrictions on travel between Melbourne and regional parts of the state will be lifted from 8 November, with a 25-kilometre travel radius for city residents set to be removed the same day.

But for now, the state remains cut off from the rest of Australia, which overall has recorded about 27,500 cases and 905 deaths in a population of 25 million.

Testing, policing, and protests

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said high testing rates in recent weeks had contributed to the low number of cases and had been “nothing short of stunning”.  

testing

The lockdown was heavily policed and is one of the toughest in the world.

There were a number of demonstrations against the lockdown in August and early September, with arrests and fines issued to some attendees.

Andrews said in response to the protests in September that the state could not afford to reopen too quickly.

“No-one is enjoying the reality we face, but none of us have the option of ignoring the reality that we face,” he said.

“We cannot open up now and stay open. It would not be safe, it would not be smart.”

- With reporting from © AFP 2020. This article has been corrected to remove references to incidence rates and the average number of Covid-19 cases as being measured ‘per 100,000′ as is done in Ireland. In Australia, cases are measured per total of the population, not per 100,000.

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