Daniel Andrews called enacting Melbourne’s lockdown the “hardest decision” he’s made as premier. It was the right one. It will save lives, and it will save those of us working on the frontline in hospitals around the city and around the state from the horrific scenes our colleagues overseas were faced with a few short months ago.
But only if we let it. Lockdowns are only as effective as people allow them to be. If we don’t abide by the rules, the rules won’t work.
Each time I see someone ignore the rules, putting their own convenience ahead of our collective safety, I cringe. Each time I hear of someone refusing to stay home, or refusing to wear a mask, I lose a little bit more hope. Because like everyone I work with, I know what can happen if we let this virus get out of control.
Most people have followed the rules admirably, giving us the best shot at driving cases down. But some haven’t, and I worry that this small minority of people doing the wrong thing could be the difference between success and failure.
I wrote last week that we needed to go harder or go longer than the original six-week stage three lockdown if we were to stand any chance of getting rid of this virus.
Since then, cases have refused to budge from the 400-500 mark, and more of my medical and nursing colleagues have fallen ill and been forced to take time off work — just at the time they’re needed most. Some have been able to quarantine at home. Others — including a young doctor in his 30s from The Northern Hospital — have ended up in the ICU.
Even for those of us lucky enough to still be healthy, the pandemic is beginning to take its toll. It has begun to feel like a marathon — but one you have to run in full PPE, without knowing where the finish line is.
Lockdowns are harsh, and this will be incredibly tough for many. But the alternatives would be even tougher. We could let the virus tear through our community and wreak havoc, or keep more lenient restrictions but be forced to endure them for months and months. Our health system cannot withstand either.
Some will protest that people have been breaking the rules not by choice, but by necessity. This is true in a few cases. Many people have lost their job, or lost hours they can’t afford to lose. Those who don’t have leave entitlements may be tempted to work while sick to make up for some of their lost income.
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This is where government intervention, like the federal government’s newly-announced $1500 “disaster payment”, comes in. While below the minimum wage and therefore not entirely removing the incentive to work for people working full-time, it’s certainly better than nothing and will mean that more people will be able to safely self-isolate and keep the virus from spreading.
Andrews’ hope in implementing this stage four lockdown is to drive cases down to a “much, much lower level”. He needs to go further. We need to drive cases down to zero if we want to prevent future increases once we open back up. As has been argued by many, this is the only way we can stop our hospitals from becoming overrun, and the only way we can open back up safely.
But again, this requires us all to pull our weight. The government has done its bit. Now it’s up to us to do ours.
If you feel like visiting a friend or catching up with your mates, think of the doctors and nurses working double shifts to deal with rising patient numbers. If you’re tempted to head out to the shops or wander up the street, think of the hospital cleaners, caterers and orderlies you could be putting at risk. And if you don’t feel like wearing a mask, think of all of us who have to wear them all day every day to keep you safe.
This lockdown will be hard. But if we get it right, our “new normal” could be just a few short weeks away.
Patrick Walker is a doctor working in a metropolitan Melbourne hospital.