Not 1, Not 2, Not 3, but 6: The Trials and Tribulations of Lockdown in Australia

Written by: Garrett Halak

While a post-pandemic  ‘new normal’ seems near for the United States, Australia’s once-glamorous Covid-19 situation has become far from perfect. Still boasting a minute death toll in comparison to most other countries around the world, Australia remains far from victorious in terms of returning to mobility and normalcy.

While lockdown lengths have varied across Australia, dependent on individual Australian territories, Melbourne’s lockdowns provide the most relevant national example of Australia’s inconsistent response to Covid-19. Lockdown one was forty-three days, lockdown two was one hundred and eleven, lockdown three was just five days, lockdown four was fourteen days, lockdown five was twelve days, and last but not least, the sixth lockdown has just recently been eased after 55 days. The implications of such lockdowns have impacted millions. In Australia, 47% of small business owners have reported decreased revenues as a direct result of Covid-19. Further, restrictions on mobility – which are enforced with substantial fines – have caused 27% of all businesses to be understaffed. International tourism has also come to a halt and students are not able to return to school; all of these consequences make clear the consequences of the sporadic nature of the pandemic response. 

Covid-19 is both unprecedented and unpredictable, but the consequences of six individual lockdowns have proven to be a divisive point for many Australians. Both lockdown one and lockdown two proved to be very effective in eliminating Covid-19 cases and allowing overworked hospitals to return to normalcy. Australians then lounged on the beach, ate at restaurants, and commuted freely to work. The rest of the world, however, faced death, unemployment, and every other negative impact of the pandemic. After literally enjoying the island life, Australians experienced a five day sudden lockdown that threw many for a loop. Although cumbersome it did “quell a cluster” and widely reduce the infectious spread. 

For perspective on the Covid-19 trends that triggered these shutdowns, Melbournians went into lockdown on July 7th for one hundred and eleven days because of approximately 700 reported cases per day. After this lockdown, cases reported daily fell to virtually zero. Initial lockdowns conducted in Melbourne and across Australia proved very effective because of strict and persisting lockdown conditions. Thousands of police were required to enforce Australians to follow a curfew lasting from 9pm to 5am. Furthermore, travel was restricted to 10-15km outside of one’s home and these trips could only last for a maximum of four hours. Logistically, this lockdown was one of the most stringent Covid-19 related lockdowns in the world, but it evidently proved to be effective.  

After this point, however, Australians became more critical of the government’s pandemic response. Many argue that while a lockdown is vital in saving countless Australian lives, the number and length of these lockdowns are “frustrating”- especially when lockdowns became less strict and hence, less effective. For starters, critics state that with an ever-evolving virus, reducing risk to zero is virtually impossible. Others convey distaste for the inconsistencies in lockdowns across territories—Victoria saw zero Covid-19 cases at one point while New South Wales experienced much higher numbers, yet Melbourne was sent into a stricter lockdown than NSW. Furthermore, even those who favor a lockdown and promote its effectiveness disagree with the government’s current response; they believe that a longer lockdown, one that lasts for more than just five days, is necessary to truly slow the spread.

Now, with AstraZeneca vaccinations more accessible to the general public, approximately 36% of the Australian population is vaccinated. Three more lockdowns still occurred as the vaccines were administered. With each of these additional lockdowns spanning relatively short periods of time, many have begun to fear that there is no foreseeable end for lockdowns. While the light at the end of the tunnel remains hazy, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was adamant about reminding Australians that no “country has got their pandemic response 100%.

It’s important to understand the consequences of lockdown: students must face virtual learning, many adults endure unemployment, restaurants suffer, and mental health declines. Australia’s first mistake seemed to be the six separate, shorter lockdowns as opposed to a lengthier one or two. Despite these consequences, though, it is admirable that deaths have remained to a minimum because of such efficient lockdowns. 

To ultimately end the lockdown uncertainty, vaccines must be better administered. The Today Show continues to air segments criticizing the lack of accessibility that Australian citizens have to the Covid-19 vaccines, despite countless doses being readily available. Ensuring nationwide availability should encourage Australians to get vaccinated, which would eliminate the need for lockdowns and reduce the high tensions experienced at the local, state, and national levels.

With no perfect solution, one can only hope that Australians will soon be able to return to normalcy – whether that means lounging on Bondi Beach or exploring the Great Barrier Reef.