It was March, then it was October. At first and when the global pandemic started to gain momentum in 2020, Australia seemed better off. After all, a giant island with easier-to-control international borders and a low population density apart from a few metropoles should be in a good predisposition to stay on top of the spread, all without strict lockdown measures, right?
Until June, no one had expected Melbourne to enter one of the strictest lockdowns globally for months on end. In Victoria, the state where Melbourne is in, a first lockdown that lasted two months had just been lifted. Around that time, reportedly some mistakes had been made in hotel quarantine and subsequently the cases were on the rise again. Under pressure of an ongoing rumble between the Australian states shutting off borders towards each other, the Victorian Premier then announced a second lockdown with even stricter stay-home orders, a nightly curfew and limited every Melbournian’s radius of movement to 5 kms. Albeit some of the rules being loosened, the lockdown shouldn’t be lifted until the spread would be eradicated. It took around four months.
End of October, Victoria (population 6.4 million) had below five new cases daily, with a few ‘zero days’. After a long stretch of wait-and-see, the Premier finally announced the lockdown over, with a two-week period of still keeping up the travel ban between Metropolitan Melbourne and the region (at the rather formidable term ‘ring of steel’). Undoubtedly, the action Victoria has taken proved effective. But how efficient was it? The question about the price worth paying for containing the virus is one that is being raised all over the world. And if the strategy is complete eradication, the price sure is a higher one.
Also and quite possibly, measures like these could only have been maintained in Australia. There is a paradox in Australian culture for being very easy-going on the one hand but liking to make rules on the other. In Melbourne as the ‘epicentre’ of the lockdown, there were no open revolts, only the odd mob of a few demonstrators that died down rather quickly.
In the light of lesser-populated and warmer Australian states shutting themselves off early and being practically Covid-free, it is understandable these measures were taken as an eradication strategy seemed the only possibility for Australia to reunite. After the shut of inter-state borders at the end of March, the states of the Australian Capital Territory, New-South Wales and Victoria, making up for about 60% of the Australian population, had since been seen as “hot spots”—much more of a hot area, really. Both the ACT and New-South Wales (alias Sydney) had been spared from a second wave and extended lockdown, and have maintained lowest numbers despite the cooler winter months. As of now in early November, travel restrictions in between states are still in place, but Australians are hoping for an allowance of inter-state travel before Christmas.
Experience has shown that it only takes a spark to light the fire of new cases. That said and with what Australia has achieved, it becomes apparent that the country will be very strict about their international borders for 2021 and provided there will be a widely-available vaccine at some point.
Now and with temperatures on the rise, everyone is hoping for a Covid-free Australian summer, which would prove a stark contrast to the outlook in most of the rest of the world.