Australia almost COVID-free

It’s truly a tale of two countries

Every day for the last 18 days now my state of Victoria, in Australia, has reported no new cases of coronavirus. Currently there are only three active cases in the entire state.

About two weeks ago, the leader of our state government, known as our premier, announced that the reduction of virus spread marked the beginning of the end of our lockdown. 

The greater metropolitan Melbourne area had been in lockdown since the first week of July, with a strict stage four lockdown beginning the first week of August.

In the beginning of August, Australia recorded 7,000 active coronavirus cases, with over 6,000 of those cases coming from the state of Victoria (a state with a population of 6.3 million people).

It was the peak of our second wave. 

We had been in lockdown from March to May, but had begun to open up and had sent our kids back to school in June (Australian schools are in session year-round) and our adults back to work.

But when new cases jumped daily from single digit to double digits to triple digits, we were sent back to our homes and were under lockdown once again in July. With numbers still not falling significantly enough, our state government implemented a stage four lockdown.

Restrictions under stage four lockdown were strict. 

We had to stay at home. We could only leave our home for four reasons: for permitted work (essential workers), for caregiving, for exercise and for buying groceries and other essential items. However, all shops and restaurants were closed for the most part except for grocery stores and pharmacies.

Restaurants were only open for takeaway or delivery, if they even stayed open at all. 

Under stage four restrictions we were not allowed to meet with anyone else outside of our household.

We could only exercise outside the home for one hour a day. But our children couldn’t exercise on a playground — those were all closed. Only one member of a household could go to the grocery store for essential supplies — and only once a day for one hour. A curfew was instated.

We could not travel further than a three-mile radius from our home (and many police checkpoints were set up to enforce an adherence to this rule). And wearing a mask outside the home became mandatory. If the police caught you breaking these rules you would be instantly fined: $200 for not wearing a mask, and $4,957 for breaching any of the other restrictions.

Victorians were urged to get tested no matter how mild the symptoms. And thousands poured into drive-through testing sites for their free coronavirus test. 

Health care is, after all, universal here.

But the government went even further to help its people as the economy became threatened by this pandemic. 

If you tested positive and had to quarantine and couldn’t go to work, the government provided you with a $1,500 payment. You were also eligible for this payment if you had been in contact with a positive case and had been asked to quarantine, thus missing work.

This program will continue for the length of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the Australian government created a program for workers who were barred from going to work due to the lockdown. This program provided $1,500 every two weeks for people out of work.

This scheme has been running for months, and continues to help citizens until all sectors of work are opened back up. Businesses that have been forced to stop operating, such as my husband’s tennis coaching business, have all received $5,000 grants to ensure that these businesses will be able to operate on the other side of this pandemic.

“Until a vaccine comes there is no normal. There’s only COVID normal,” said our state premier, Dan Andrews, recently during his daily press conference. 

He went on to say: “I could not be prouder than I am today to lead a state that has shown the courage, the compassion and the character to get this job done. But it is not yet absolutely finished. Only a vaccine can give us the ultimate protection against this. So we need to be proud today. We need to be optimistic.

“We need to be confident. But we also need to be COVID safe. And I’m very confident that that’s exactly what Victorians will do.”

And it does seem that the Victorian people have come together for the greater good in this time when we were told to stay apart. 

The majority of people followed the rules and stayed home.

Even today, with restrictions easing and restaurants opening again and kids back to school, people are keeping a fair distance apart and are all wearing their face masks. Today people can now see that it was worth living through months of isolation. 

It was worth heightened levels of caution and copious amounts of hand washing. Having zero new cases for over two weeks is a great achievement.

It is also a testament to the fact that lockdowns work. 

With cases soaring in Europe and elsewhere, they too have adapted Australia’s strict lockdown measures in an effort to quell the virus.

And with cases also exploding in the States, especially in Iowa where hospitals are reaching capacity, perhaps America is next in line for strict, but effective, lockdowns?

Andra LK Guccione is a former Jefferson resident who lives in Australia. Her parents, Milan and Deb Kucerak, reside in Jefferson.

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