The Eerie Familiarity of a Melbourne Lockdown


The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau.

It’s all so eerily familiar. The gray weather and afternoon sunsets. The anxious wait for the day’s numbers. The obsessive checking of exposure sites. The rumors of restrictions, followed by the reality of lockdown. The kids home from school. Birthday parties canceled, holidays postponed. The dreary, fearful, resigned uncertainty of it all.

Today, Victoria entered its first lockdown since last year, when the state — and Melbourne in particular — spent many months with a variety of harsh restrictions. With 39 active coronavirus cases in the state and hundreds of exposure sites, including sports arenas and crowded bars, we’ve been told we’re in for a seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown. But we’ve heard that before, and we know that if things go the wrong way we could be in for a longer haul.

Much of the world has experienced some form of lockdown, so much so that the word tends to lose meaning when used outside of a local context. In Victoria, it means we are not allowed to leave our homes except for a few essential reasons. We are not allowed to travel more than five kilometers from our homes. Enforcement last year was strict; there’s no reason to think that this will be any different, although most people are compliant. Folks I know are glad for rules that aim to keep them safe. But that appreciation doesn’t make the lonely claustrophobia of lockdown any easier.

And it’s easy to wonder: Why Melbourne? Other Australian cities have managed to make it through the entire pandemic with only brief restrictions and tiny outbreaks. Is it our weather? Our state’s policies? Bad luck? (The Guardian today has a good article examining these questions.)

There are a few differences this time around. Instead of Premier Dan Andrews delivering the daily news conferences — whose ubiquity became a kind of ritual for Victorians last year — we are now being directed by the acting premier James Merlino. (Mr. Andrews fell in early March and suffered broken ribs and spinal damage. He is expected to be back on the job next month.) Many businesses, particularly those with office-based workers, became so used to functioning this way last year that this will barely disrupt them.

But the biggest difference for many of us is that there is something we can actually do about the situation this time around: get vaccinated. As of today, Victorians ages 40 to 49 can make an appointment to receive a vaccine — before that, only those over 50 were eligible. And of those in the over-50 range, many people who put off getting vaccinated have turned out in droves in recent days to receive their shots.

I got my first dose last night. (A change in my circumstances made me newly eligible yesterday.) I’d be lying if I told you it was an easy process. I spent hours on hold, took a long bus ride to a clinic that turned me away (despite the Covid hotline sending me there), spent hours on hold again, took a bus home, then drove back to the clinic well into the evening. Many Victorians will be dealing with similar frustrations today and into the future — long lines, long waits, confusion about the process. But after months of waiting, after the last year, after everything, the only thing I felt upon receiving my shot was relief.

Today, like many Victorians, I am looking longingly out my window at my beautiful city. I’m helping my son navigate home-schooling again. I’m worrying about those who are ill. I’m grateful for the contact tracers, who are working at lightning speed. I’m grateful to finally have begun the vaccination process.

I’m dreaming about springtime.

How is the new Victorian lockdown affecting you? Let us know at [email protected].

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