As Melburnians go about their day on Friday, life should feel that little bit freer. Five reasons to leave home – gone. A chance to get a haircut, go out for a meal – tick those boxes. Have friends and family over for a hug and a chit-chat – yes please. And the end to the dreaded curfew – good riddance.
All up, more than 260 days in lockdown, a world record we may wish to forget. It was March 16, 2020, when the first state of emergency was declared, giving Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton the powers to enforce restrictions to contain COVID-19. On that day, non-essential gatherings of 500 or more were banned and international travellers were told they would have to quarantine at home for 14 days upon arrival. By the end of the month, we were in full lockdown.
A restaurant in Exhibition Street, in Melbourne’s CBD, prepares to welcome back customers.Credit:Joe Armao
It has been a roller-coaster ride ever since. Never before have we relied so heavily on the leadership and mechanics of government to keep us safe. The pandemic gave rise to endless debates over mask wearing, school closures, which businesses and sectors must shut, gatherings at funerals and weddings, playing golf and going fishing.
As the months wore on, so did the frustration, boiling over into verbal and sometimes physical clashes, often between groups best epitomised by the hashtags #istandwithdan and #dictatordan. At times, there was good reason to be angry. The flaws in the initial set-up of the hotel quarantine program that led to the spread of COVID-19, and the second lockdown, were shown by an independent inquiry to be a perfect storm of political and bureaucratic ineptitude and buck-passing.
But there have also been many moments to appreciate. As most of us retreated to our local communities, acts of care and support abounded. Small gestures made big differences to people in need. Toy bears appeared in windows, food was left at front doors. Check-in calls became commonplace.
But that is all behind us now. Fingers crossed and touch wood, Melbourne’s sixth hard lockdown will be its last. That’s not to say there are not hurdles ahead. With daily case numbers still spiking above 2000, it will be some time before we really “learn to live it”.
The news this week from Britain, where case numbers are surging despite broad uptake of vaccinations, is a sobering reminder of what may be ahead. As Britain’s Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, explained: “This pandemic is not over. Thanks to vaccinations, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened, but it is not broken.”
With the double-dosed vaccination rate of those 16 and above hitting 70 per cent, and the single-dose rate at 90 per cent, we are rapidly reaching the targets necessary to ease restrictions while slowing the spread of COVID-19. The enormous logistical exercise has been plagued by delays, but it has been heartening to see that for all the fears raised over vaccine hesitancy, Victorians have embraced rolling up their sleeves.
Melburnians can now begin to enjoy some of the benefits of that effort. As is typical of the approach by the Andrews government, the easing of restrictions is slow and cautious. But it’s a start and, hopefully, the beginning of the end to this pandemic. So take time to savour what we once took for granted: a haircut, a lunch with friends, a visit to your parents. You have well and truly earned it.
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