Is this the end of Melbourne's COVID lockdowns?
Just a week or so ago Melbourne gained the title of the most locked down city in the world in terms of days locked down. As of today the lockdowns in Melbourne are starting to lift after 263 days of lockdowns. This dubious title has enormously changed the city, there's a saying that sometimes there's decades where not much happens and months where decades happen. I feel the COVID pandemic has marked something of a cultural turning point and will have extremely obvious economic impacts and various far less obvious cultural implications for many years to come. At the very least I expect Melbourne, once a mainstay, to be absent from the "most liveable" city lists for quite some time to come.
The lockdowns have been long enough and numerous enough that I think it's worth recording them here for future reference:
31st March 2020 till 12th May 2020 (43 days)
At the time the first lockdown was quite unsettling, nobody really knew much about the situation and uncertainty and fears were high. People made the claim that now sounds completely absurd that it would just be "two weeks to flatten the curve". Case numbers got back down to zero across most of Australia and there was a rather rapid recovery of sentiment. There was a positivity after the end of the first lockdown that I distinctly remember. In many parts of Australia this was the longest lockdown for the entire pandemic.
9th July 2020 till 27th October 2020 (111 days)
This was the long second wave lockdown, this was especially brutal but Melbourne managed to come back from a rather bad outbreak to get back to complete elimination of the virus. As far as I know there was no other place on earth that managed to get back down to zero cases after having an outbreak of this size. This particular lockdown changed Melbourne a lot. There was less positivity after this lockdown ended, more a sense of exhaustion than anything else. Also at the time much of the rest of Australia was not in lockdown, a friend of mine was working out in Western Australia at the time and avoided this lockdown entirely. A family friend who was living in northern NSW mentioned on a phone call that people up there thought the pandemic was over towards the end of the Melbourne lockdown, that experiences and living conditions were so different for different people in the country might have been a first in Australian history.
13th Feb 2021 till 17th Feb 2021 (5 days)
Unlike the first lockdown it took a few months of reopening combined with summer before sentiment had improved. I remember in the lead up to this lockdown people were finally starting to feel better about things. I remember at the time I'd actually started to see some contract work prospects start up again, something that was almost entirely absent in 2020. This lockdown even though it was short completely cratered sentiment again. Despite it being a week this one was pretty bad for people's outlook.
28th May 2021 to 10th June 2021 (14 days)
I remember this one was announced with less notice than the one before, I remember having effectively one day to drive up to the country to help a relative with some urgent maintenance then make the drive back to attempt to return by midnight. People were just starting to get over the previous snap lockdown with regards to longer term plans just in time for yet another lockdown. Sentiment was basically in the bin by this point. I had held of for many months but the decision to close my IT consulting business was made in this time as local deals were just dead at this point. Earlier in 2021 through to lockdown number 5 I did some carpentry work and some other bits and pieces of work, having this other work was great. This is when I first started to really viscerally see the "K shaped recovery" dynamic on a personal level.
16th July 2021 to 27th July 2021 (11 days)
With rising case numbers of the delta strain in Sydney it seemed only a matter of time before things got out of hand in Melbourne again. Sydney had basically fucked up it's early response to Delta and was starting to see an uncontrollable outbreak forming, also unlike previous Melbourne lockdowns where the Victoria and NSW border were closed it seemed to take an eternity for anything to happen this time around with regards to movement across the border. The result being that a Melbourne outbreak as a direct result of travellers from Sydney coming to Melbourne was basically inevitable. Because it was Delta COVID we were fairly fucked so even though this particular lockdown ended quickly I knew it was not going to last. With memories fresh from lockdown 4 I remember thinking I needed to get some supplies for some house repairs as soon as this lockdown would lift, simply because I didn't know when the next opportunity would be to go get things.
5th August 2021 till 21 October 2021 (79 days)
The start of this lockdown I remember well, I was taking a nap and there was a knock on the door "hey lockdown starts in 5 hours, can you help me get some stuff at Bunnings1". The notice given for this lockdown was the shortest of them all. I had to rush out the door to go get some things as I wasn't sure when the next opportunity would be. This lockdown was a long one, reminiscent of the second lockdown in Melbourne in some ways but very different in others. Due to the vaccine rollout there was an end in sight to the lockdown insanity unlike the situation in the second wave where it wasn't clear when the end date would be.
I remember when the recent lockdowns from the delta strain started, I was working a shift at a job and I remember hearing that we had to close everything up that night2. The announcement was made in the morning that the closure would be that night, I remember hanging around with people not knowing when we'd see them next. The claim was that it would be a "snap 7 day lockdown", I remembered saying to people that I'd be surprised if it were less than 3 weeks knowing what I knew about the Delta strain of Covid and the tendencies of the local government to shut things down. At the time vaccine numbers were low, very low, courtesy of an especially slow vaccine rollout up until that time. I thought 3 weeks was an optimistic take but yet I remember people being angry at me for "being so negative". Somewhat surprisingly we reopened for a few days 11 days later but work wasn't restarted that week. Then another 70+ days later that lockdown is being lifted and I think there's a good chance this will be the last (at least for Covid). It has been rather annoying that my "pessimistic" takes have continually ended up being too optimistic but alas3.
I went for a late night walk before, now that the horrid curfew has been lifted, and ran into some neighbors who were doing the same. I noticed that the night was still somewhat eerily quiet, something that had been very noticeable during the pandemic. Some cars started to be seen, I guess people going to venues that had decided to open at midnight.
There's some rather interesting times ahead, I think the pandemic is still an ongoing health issue and the astounding amount of economic damage that has been incurred is yet to be resolved at all.
For anyone not familiar Bunnings is a large home improvement retailer. Also when politicians in Sydney in 2021 were claiming it that "Sydney has the strictest lockdown conditions in Australia" people there could still go visit Bunnings and browse around for things in the store, by contrast all these stores were closed in their Melbourne locations. In person retail completely stopped for the most part in Melbourne for large portions of the pandemic. Recently in Perth Bunnings has become a focal point with the premier there talking about plans to have more vaccination locations in Bunnings car parks. ↩
In some senses I'm glad that I got to experience the impact of the pandemic and specifically the experience of having a lockdown prevent me from working a job. This experience, while entirely shit at the time, was an amazing opportunity to see how the world really worked and gave me a very much needed jolt to think about some of the issues facing the world. I'll come out of this far less naive than I did going into it. I also think it's given me a really good chance to see both sides of the "K shaped recovery" first hand, once as someone who was forced to not work and once from the perspective of someone working remotely who's job wasn't too impacted badly by the pandemic. I worked almost every single day when I had the job but lockdown was happening, there just wasn't really anything else to do. In both those experiences I still think I was on the bottom arm of the "K" since I don't have vast wealth invested in any of the bubbles happening at the moment. That we had such a long period of lockdowns where I could have both those different experiences of the pandemic for multiple months each is remarkable. ↩
While fear has been very obviously weaponized in this pandemic I've noticed some very weaponized "optimism" in this pandemic as well. Specifically when people raise important but somewhat inconvenient topics there's been a tendency of some groups to shut people down by whatever means possible. ↩