How Melbourne’s long lockdown crushed a second wave

a bus on a city street: Melbourne residents have endured one of the world's longest lockdowns

© Getty Images
Melbourne residents have endured one of the world’s longest lockdowns

Melbourne’s grinding second coronavirus lockdown began in the chill of winter.

In early July, the nights were long and dark, and Australia’s cultural capital was confronting the terrifying reality of another deadly wave of infections.

More than 110 days later, experts say it is emerging as a world leader in disease suppression alongside places including Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Raina McIntyre, a biosecurity professor at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute, told the BBC that Australia’s response had been “light years ahead” of the US and the UK.

“It is just thoroughly shocking. When we think of pandemics we don’t think that well-resourced, high-income countries are going to fall apart at the seams, but that is exactly what we have seen,” she said.

At the end of Tuesday, Melbourne’s five million residents will see an end to strict stay-home orders that put an entire city into a type of protective custody.

When the restrictions are lifted, Melburnians will have endured one of the world’s longest and toughest lockdowns.

It’s been controversial, calamitous for jobs and crushingly hard for many, but health specialists believe it has worked.

There is cautious optimism that with very low case numbers, the worst is over.

chart, histogram: Victoria's daily cases. Entered lockdown 7 July. .

© Provided by BBC News
Victoria’s daily cases. Entered lockdown 7 July. .

“I’m pretty proud of what we have achieved here,” said Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne. “The outcome has been extraordinary – not without its pain, though.”

On Monday, Melbourne reported no new daily cases for the first time since June. In early August, it was recording more than 700 daily, and dozens of people were dying.

The Victorian state capital was at the heart of an unfolding public health crisis, and in other parts of Australia, which had mostly contained Covid-19, people held their breath.

“Europe and the US are facing enormously high numbers. In Victoria, we had an isolated outbreak pretty much just in Melbourne, and the rest of the country had extremely low, and in many states zero, numbers,” Prof Lewin told the BBC.

“We had absolutely no choice but to go into a significant lockdown if we were going to rejoin the rest of the country, and that gave us motivation.”

Face coverings became mandatory in Victoria, and a night-time curfew blanketed Melbourne.

Life retreated indoors, while on the front-line of an invisible war, a growing number of casualties included health care workers and nursing home residents. The true impact on mental health may never be known.

More on Melbourne’s lockdown:

“We understand why the government has taken that approach and it has worked, but we do feel that the government could move quicker to start easing the restrictions. They are taking an overly cautious approach,” explained Adel Salman, vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, last week.

“The strain on families, the rise in domestic violence – these

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