Melbourne has endured one of the longest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world and finally, an end is in sight.
Debate will rage for decades over what worked, whether it was too long or whether the price in terms of jobs or unemployment was too high.
After 100 days confined to their homes and ordered not to leave for more than two hours of daily exercise – it started as a one hour limit – Victorians have lived a grim existence that few Australians outside of the state can understand.
But by enduring it and sticking to the plan, have Victorians also made history as one of the only cities across the globe to bring a second wave of coronavirus under control and return daily case numbers to zero?
Experts who spoke to news.com.au believe they have and outside of Singapore, it’s hard to think of any other city in the world that has done anything like it.
One of the nation’s most respected epidemiologists Dr Catherine Bennett of Deakin University told news.com.au that she believes what Victorians have achieved is of international significance.
“The best comparison we found was Singapore,’’ she said.
“It’s the only one that’s really had a second wave and then brought it under control.
“They closed retail and all the rest. Although, they started releasing some of those restrictions earlier.”
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Prof Catherine Bennett for example, has previously argued Victoria has adopted “a sledgehammer approach” to its road map out of lockdown “when a hammer may have been just as effective”,
The World Health Organisation has argued blanket lockdowns are a “blunt, sheer force instrument” and not the preferred response to COVID-19 outbreaks.
But as new case numbers plummet towards zero, has the state achieved something no other city or nation in the world has?
Crushing the second wave after the state first eliminated the virus earlier this year before it escaped the hotel quarantine scheme and spread silently across Victoria?
“Melburnians should be absolutely proud of what they has achieved. We will know in the future, when we look back, more about what worked better and what we could have done better,’’ Prof Bennett told news.com.au.
But she does now believe Melburnians have borne the burden of the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world.
“As one continuous lockdown, it would I think compete for that unfortunate title,’’ she said.
“It was hard to call before. I think it’s been an incredible ask. People have been largely on board and patient.”
Dr Bennett said it had been incredibly tough for health workers on the frontline of contact tracing, aged care and hospitals having to do their jobs while the politicians bickered.
“Those people on the ground, in healthcare and aged care, they bore the brunt of a lot of the divisive debates. I can’t think of anything harder than being a contact tracer doing a job as hard as anyone could and you’re hearing ‘it’s not good enough’. Get the politics out of it. Everyone deserves a massive congratulations.”
The debate has sparked a bitter split between federal and state political leaders, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg begging the Victorian Premier to end the lockdown “torture”.
“It’s not about me or Daniel Andrews. It’s about the Victorian people who are paying the highest price for the failures in hotel quarantine — failures for which nobody in the state government has taken responsibility,’’ he said.
“The bloody-mindedness is unforgivable. Now that the case numbers are down to single digits it’s time the Victorian government allowed millions of Victorians back to work and businesses to re-open in a COVID-safe way. If NSW was able to reopen, Victoria should too.’’
But Mr Andrews responded by accusing the Treasurer of playing politics.
“He’s not a leader, he’s just a Liberal,” he said. “He’s just a Liberal and all he does is play politics every day.”
Premier Daniel Andrews has praised Victorians for their efforts in helping to control the virus, hinting that Monday’s low new case numbers could see more restrictions eased.
“That’s very good news I would have thought and hopefully Victorians feel that real sense of pride in themselves because I certainly feel a sense of pride in them for everything that they have done and I’m sure will continue to do to stay safe and to stay open,’’ he said.
The idea that Victoria should be cautious about how swiftly it reopens was backed by the ABC’s Norman Swan.
“Victoria has done a great job. It’s unfortunate that the politics are coming in here to open up faster, but the problem with that is that last night on 7.30, I had David Nabarro from the World Health Organisation on, and the risk of rebound is high and you just want to go easily here. And I think that most Victorians are behind that,’’ he said.
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Dr Swan said that the plight of Europe “should help to silence the critics of Victoria’s lockdown,’’ he said.
“We’ve said it many times before, that when it is out of control, lockdown is the only way that you can actually control the virus when it is out of control.
“Curfews overnight are not going to cut it. They’re just doing too little, too late. Many of the countries don’t have good testing and contact tracing regiments in place. And, of course, borders are generally — borders are generally open.”
By comparison, Dr Swan said Victoria had “crushed” the virus.
“They have. And contact tracing has really triumphed here and you know, really stepped up to the plate where they’re testing turnaround times are excellent. The numbers of people getting tested over the weekend were really fantastic. And the numbers of unknown cases spread are reducing and they’re closing off on investigations much faster.”
It’s good news. And for that at least Victorians can be grateful. But as the Victorian Premier noted, it will never be over until there is a vaccine.
“People are just going to have to be vigilant about this,’’ Mr Andrews said.
“Otherwise we run the risk that it comes back.”