I live in a city with more than five million people. Together we’ve been in stage 4 lockdown for almost four months — 115 gruelling days and counting. Many of us, myself included have been working from home since March. To say it’s been surreal is an understatement, and I don’t write this to trivialise the human cost. Businesses have closed, people have lost their jobs. Sadly, more than 800 people have died thanks to a botched hotel quarantine programme and systemic failures in aged care facilities.
Today, it’s safe to say that millions of Melburnians were hoping for relief, for an easing of restrictions. Those hopes were dashed by delays in processing a few thousand tests, and our state premier’s display of an abundance of caution. Relief will come, we’re promised, and the data is positive despite a new outbreak in the Northern suburbs. Intellectually we all know this, but our emotions aren’t so disciplined or rational. Human beings are social animals living in vast herds. People crave contact and connections — which is precisely why infectious diseases are so dangerous – they thrive because of our behaviour.
Unsurprisingly, the lockdown has become a political flashpoint in an already widening gulf between Left and Right. Melbourne accounts for more than 20% of Australia’s entire GDP, and thus the lockdown is hurting the whole country, contributing measurably to our first recession in almost 30 years. If I ignore the hotheads and conspiracy theorists on social media screaming at each, I can accept there is merit to both arguments. On the one hand, there’s the need to preserve life, and maintain the capacity of our healthcare system. On the other is the need to preserve livelihoods and people’s mental health and quality of life. Someone, somewhere in Government has crunched the numbers, and they're calculated a fine line between a victory, and clichés about a long-dead king of Epirus.
Given the circumstances, most people have shown a tremendous capacity to endure the lockdown. We may grumble, but the majority of us are doing what we're supposed to, placing faith in science and common sense. This isn't easy when there's no visible enemy at the gates. Unlike the London Blitz, there’s no foreign adversary raining bombs on a resilient population sheltering in the Tube. This silent enemy has already infiltrated our ranks, and it makes no distinction on whom it strikes. Even so, I do question people's willingness to continue the long this lockdown persists. Many ask if we should simply learn to live with with COVID until a vaccine is widely available. I'm not convinced that's a viable solution, given the horrific numbers we're seeing reported in Europe, America and elsewhere.
History will judge if this lockdown was a success or failure. The numbers have fallen, and with the numbers so have the deaths declined. In that respect, lockdown works, yet one must ask how we landed in this situation in the first place, unlike the rest of Australia. The circumstances of what caused this second wave are still subject to an inquiry, and when lockdown shifts into something called COVID Normal, I suspect political heads will fall, if not in the immediate aftermath then certainly during the next election.
Still, I can’t buy into the hate against Premier Andrews, and I say this without wanting to make a political statement. Yet, I accept too that I am fortunate, and can afford the luxury of supporting the Premier as he tackles COVID19 on the side of public health rather than economic growth. Apart from homeschooling and the inconvenience of not seeing my extended family, I’ve been able to carry on with a minimal impact on my life, thanks mostly to my work in the knowledge economy. Others are not so fortunate, and I do feel for those who have lost their jobs or have been cut off from crucial social interactions.
People are hurting, but I do believe this lockdown will end — hopefully soon. Stay safe.