There are calls for Melbourne to create shared bubble arrangements amid its Stage 4 lockdown as single people are feeling more isolated under the restrictions.
With Melbourne now just halfway through its six-week Stage 4 lockdown, which could be extended if coronavirus cases don’t continue to drop, singles especially are feeling the effects with those who live by themselves reporting higher levels of loneliness.
The latest census data revealed that in Victoria – which reported 116 new coronavirus cases on Monday – one in four households were single-person homes.
Research from Swinburne University found those living by themselves were experiencing more feelings of loneliness than those who were not.
The research also associated loneliness with an increase in mental health symptoms.
But with people in Melbourne able to still visit intimate partners amid the lockdown, some say it’s an unfair advantage over singles who otherwise aren’t allowed to visit a friend in the same way.
Professor of Global Health at Monash University and clinical psychologist, Jane Fisher, told Yahoo News Australia a shared bubble arrangement would have benefits that would outweigh the harm.
“In my opinion, if you follow all the safety requirements like social distancing, wearing masks and not going out if you have symptoms, then it’s a very good suggestion,” she said.
Melbourne woman Kristen Remington agreed, telling the ABC catching up with people via video chats like Zoom was not a substitute for seeing people in person.
She was calling on the government to introduce a shared bubble arrangement for singles, like ones seen in other countries.
“I find it quite frustrating that people in relationships can see their partner no matter where they live,” she told the ABC.
“However, as a single person who lives on my own, I can’t nominate one close person who I can see.”
How shared bubble arrangement would work
Calls for a shared bubble arrangement in Victoria come after New Zealand implemented it during their lockdown earlier this year.
Government advice said a person could leave their residence to visit or stay at another residence under a shared bubble arrangement if one person lived alone in one or both residences, or if everybody in the residences in the shared bubble arrangement were vulnerable.
Professor Fisher said if the Victorian government implemented the plan it would have to trust those under the shared bubble arrangement as it could be complicated to police.
“Anything that involves another form of permissions or something you have to register for is going to be a problem,” she said.
“It would have to be done on the basis of trust and good will.
“I think the community has shown willingness to abide by restrictions and this is something that could be presumed people would do in good faith.”
Professor Fisher said it would best work the same way as the exemption for intimate partners and would not necessarily have to be an agreement with somebody within the 5km radius.
“It’s one of the specifics that would have to be worked out. I think it would be safest to keep it within the five kilometres but that would have to change if it was not sufficient for the majority of people,” she said.
“This solution was tried in New Zealand and as it was found not to be a source of additional transmission, the benefits outweighed the risks”
Moderate to severe depression ‘three times higher’
A survey conducted by Monash University in April found the rate of moderate to severe depression and anxiety among Australians was about three times higher than at non-COVID times.
“It indicated all of us were feeling challenged by this adaptation. All of us had something that was alarming to us,” she said.
“About 14 per cent of respondents told us at least some of the time they had thoughts they’d be better off dead. It’s pretty severe distress.”
Earlier this month the Victorian government also revealed grim mental health statistics in the state, with a 33 per cent increase in people aged under 18 presenting at emergency departments after self-harming.
There has been a 9.5 per cent increase year-on-year for presentations of self-harm in emergency departments across all age groups in the state.
Monash University is now conducting another study four months on to understand the experience of Australians as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the country.
Professor Fisher expects the distress will be even more intense, especially in Victoria where the lockdown is restricting people from activities like socialising.
“My sense is the restrictions are going to have a lasting impact,” she said.
The Victorian Government did not respond to questions about whether it would introduce a shared bubble arrangement.
Australians wanting to contribute to Monash University’s survey can visit Living with COVID-19 restrictions.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.