Melbourne residents are facing a difficult six-week period as harsh Stage Four restrictions including a nightly curfew have been imposed on the Victorian city.
The drastic move was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday in the face of stubbornly high virus cases persisting in the state.
Despite referring to the introduction of a face mask mandate as “essentially Stage Four” last week, new cases continued to mount and health authorities were forced to tighten the screws even further. After more than three weeks of Melbourne under Stage Three restrictions, it was deemed that more restrictions were needed.
Victoria’s lockdown similar to New Zealand
The Stage Four lockdown has been likened to New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown which saw a similar level of restrictions enforced, albeit without a curfew.
But there’s one major reason Victoria’s won’t prove as successful – at least not in the near term, according to physician and ABC’s virus expert Dr Norman Swan who has become the face of the pandemic for many Australians.
“New Zealand went to Stage 4, from memory when they had about 90 cases a day. We’re going to Stage 4 in Melbourne at 600 or 700 [cases a day.]
“And it took New Zealand four to six weeks to get this under control,” he told ABC Radio Monday.
“There’s a gargantuan task ahead, and that just gives you a bit or perspective on the task.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Level 4 restrictions in New Zealand on March 22 after the country confirmed more than 100 new cases for the first time.
The level 4 restrictions were eased after four weeks, and New Zealand later declared itself virus free on June 8. More cases were detected later, mainly through international arrivals, and New Zealand now has 25 active cases.
As for Victoria, that higher caseload means a longer lockdown. The current regime is scheduled to last for the next six weeks but it remains to be seen how long is necessary to get new cases back into single figures.
“Every day you wait, there’s a week at the other end,” Dr Swan said, referring to lockdown controls.
Stage Three lockdown not obeyed
But despite the widely reported individual breaches, Dr Swan believes restrictions on local outbreaks weren’t tightened fast enough after 36 Melbourne suburbs were put in lockdown on June 30.
“The lockdown in the 36 suburbs were not strict enough back then. They didn’t ring fence those suburbs,” he said referring to the idea of strongly cordoning off the suburbs.
“They should’ve implemented masks at that point and got really tough and ring fenced those suburbs.
“Everything’s just been a little bit late.”
Dr Swan agreed there was no other choice for Victorian authorities but to impose a harsher lockdown, largely due to the mounting number of “mystery” cases which could not be linked to a contact source or known outbreak.
“What happened during the week was a slow and steady accumulation of cases where they didn’t know where they got the virus from,” he said.
“That’s the key statistic, if you don’t know where the virus is coming from” that’s likely to lead to more spread.
Tough Stage Four restrictions
Under Stage Four rules to run until at least September 13, metropolitan Melbourne is under a nightly 8pm-5am curfew that started on Sunday night.
Melbourne residents will also only be allowed to exercise for an hour a day and can't travel more than 5km from home for shopping or exercise.
Only one person per household can shop for groceries each day, while recreational sports such as tennis and golf have been banned altogether.
With a state of disaster declared, police have additional powers to fine anyone caught breaking curfew or outside a 5km radius of their home without reasonable excuse.
Meanwhile, regional Victoria has moved to stage three restrictions, with restaurants, cafes, bars and gyms to shut from midnight on Wednesday.
Mitchell Shire, north of Melbourne, has been reclassified as a regional municipality, meaning it will remain under stage three rules.
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